All posts filed under “cocktail

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Leandro @ One Leicester Street

The start of something (utterly) exciting..

Where do I begin? The word “supper club” has been a distant memory, and being subjected to a communal table in the middle of an unpopulated dining room daunted me. The glimmering kitchen was my hope. So was the name Leandro Carreira, a chef who held senior positions at two of the world’s most inspiring kitchens Mugaritz and Viajante.

Leandro or Leo is at One Leicester Street for 3 months (until mid-June, I guess), doing what seems an understatement, a “supper club”. This is an 8-course menu with beverage pairings (by Talented Mr Fox) at £88. Chefs are keen to exchange thoughts and diners are encouraged to nose around in the kitchen. The cuisine is innovative – an epiphany both of taste and of thought process.

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Barnyard

A bit of Dabbous..

It is a truth universally acknowledged by food critics that Dabbous is a restaurant worthy of month-long reservation attempts. For me, I have found tastier solace at its downstairs bar. You’ll find bar nibble quickies (BBQ beef buns, etc.), some Dabbous signature dishes, awesome desserts and funky cocktails. And, in my opinion, Barnyard – a walk-in only restaurant by Ollie Dabbous – is precisely that.

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The Lockhart

Blogging again

The Lockhart isn’t a new restaurant but one that nobody talked about. It wasn’t until its recent acquisition of chef Bradford McDonald that The Lockhart got my attention. The fare here is Southern American with backflippingly cool and refined twists.

Before that. Bradford. He is American and Southern. He grew up in a farm and mobilised across the world’s best kitchens (including Per Se and Noma). His former restaurant Governor in Brooklyn, NY was lauded by chefs, critics and food enthusiasts. Sadly, it was swept away by Sandy. A year or so after, I feel privileged to have Brad cooking in London.

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Gymkhana: The Tasty (Colonial) Memories in Mayfair

Social and colonial stuff

For those with limited cultural and Commonwealth knowledge (like me), Gymkhana may be summed up as a posh colonial-style sport club where members come dine and drink. And walking in, the ambiance and the design – a well-lacquered floor, framed pre- and post-colonial equestrian memorabilia, hunting taxidermy, and so forth – did live up to the brief. Social, nearly informal. There was also an unmistaken vibe of masculine gentility as I was seated at the table by a pristinely uniformed staff (in a Nehru jacket?) who explained away, with great but simplified detail, the culinary crux of Indian cuisine that I am never familiar with. (Yes, by now, I hope you have spotted that the cuisine of South Asian origins is not my forte).

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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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HKK by Hakkasan: The Morsels of Modern Chinese Banquet in City

City, culture(s) and HKK

Despite my being harsh – you will see – I actually like HKK very much. I am talking a new concept modern Chinese restaurant in the City by Hakkasan Group that, contrary to Hakkasan, runs only a tasting menu. There is also no swanky bar featuring demure lighting. There is a

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bar, still, and with cascading medical-looking curtains to section the restaurant, the dining room seems temporary. There *is* also the crowd, during my two meals at the restaurant, the *City* crowd (or just some of .. ) that doesn’t seem to care much about exquisitely thought out food – let alone the fact that it is Chinese. On my second visit, in particular, they cared very much about their expensive wines/champagnes, a sentiment they were so keen to convey to the neighbouring diners. Last and definitely not least, as somebody brought up with a half-Chinese background, the tasting menu format at HKK is excruciatingly culturally frustrating. The Chinese that I know like to eat in abundance, or at least, they like seeing there is food in abundance that they may or may not choose to eat. One piece of roast duck, one piece of crispy skin and one roll cannot be explained away as keeping you wanting more to my parents at least. It is just wrong.

Rant over..

And despite all this – you will see – I love my two meals at HKK and will return for more.

Tasting the banquet

Chef Tong Chee Hwee isn’t the name most often mentioned but he has been instrumental in the success of Hakkasan since its inauguration. The 15-course tasting menu (£95), which marries the premium produce of the West with the jewels of the East, is not only a great testament to chef Tong’s talents but also that, after 10 years of Hakkasan, he still has a lot of tricks up his sleeves. HKK also offers a shorter 8-course menu (£48) at lunch. Also, the juice pairing (£25) is the most innovative and successful I’ve ever come across in the UK.

Let’s start. Four Treasure Iberico Ham Wrap was a bite-sized wrap of pickled mooli, cucumber, nameko mushroom, tofu and Jamon Iberico. The fillings were crunchy and refined in taste; the goji berry sauce carried acidity to complement; my only criticism was that the texture construction in this case made me think the Jamon, tasting mighty fine, became slightly chewy. Drunken Chicken, served cold, was far more superior. Here Poulet de Bresse replaced your ordinary chicken and boast a length and depth of taste. The gu-yue-long-shan rice wine lent an elegant perfume that transported me away from the quite dire surrounding. Peking Duck, carved by chef Tong at the island in the middle of the dining room, was insanely delicious. The meaty duck was roasted with lychee wood and oozed a sweet and fruity aroma. There was no lingering oily touch left in the skin and the meat. The skin, particularly, shattered, exploded on my tongue. Putting this in the context of London, HKK’s Peking Duck is superior to my Peking Duck haunt Min Jiang. (The latter can be inconsistent at times). That said, the pancake wrap, suffering from the transportation time from the island to my table, was dry. This was followed by a clear soup of Poulet de Bresse, with dried scallops, jelly fish, goji berries and chrysanthemum petals. A refined comfort.

Trio of Dim Sum was both thoughtful and successful. I was instructed to start with the wonderful steamed har-gau with black truffle. The casing was especially thin and erupted a bold infusion of truffle and prawns. Szechuan dumpling – prawns, chicken and mushroom – was steamed and pan-fried. Spicy. Mind-blowing. I finished off the selection with a very delicate mooli puff. The puff itself was unreal and powdered away in my mouth. The filling was appetizingly pickle-y. It also cleansed my palate in an instant. Stir Fried Gai Lan in XO Sauce sustained this momentum. The use of house-made XO sauce was minimal but precise, leaving a trace of musty spicy-ness to counter the crispy and sweet lilly bulbs and earthy shimeji mushrooms. The gai lan itself was fresh and had a gentle chlorophyll note. Wok Fried Lobster with Yellow Bean Sauce was indulgent. The lobster itself was distinctly fresh and well treated to emulate a depth of flavour. That said, the plate on which the dish was served make it really hard to hollow out the meat from the claw. Then came a Da-Hong-Pao tea break (a rare variation of oolong from Fujian), with osmanthus jelly (tangy and aromatic) and deep-fried water chestnut cake (sweet, delicate, biteful, greaseless – the best I’ve ever had!).

Fried Monkfish was served nestled in a fragrant concoction of Louis Roederer and rice wine sauce. I loved the contrasting acidity from the loose, mildly fermented rice with intense sun-dried (Italian?) tomatoes. There was also a successful departure of perfume from the disc of lotus leaf, on which the fish was served. Toban of Home-made Pumpkin Tofu was rich and also very good. The pumpkin tofu was skilfully made and in a perfect state between being silky and wobbly. The sauce – rice-wine infusion with chicken and root vegetables – was potent. Braised Australian Wagyu melted in my mouth. The sauce verged on being quite sweet and lacking the dimensions of preceding dishes. The water chestnut mediated this with its cleansing juicy-ness. The sweet potato crisp looked spectacular but was, in fact, soggy (on both visits). The last of the savoury was a rice course steamed with mui-choi and shitake. ‘Twas okay. Good fragrance. Not one of those rice dishes that, in my opinion, would make rice-eating nations proud. The steamed razor clam with vermicelli, garlic and chilli was nicely executed but somehow lacked vitality.

The desserts were weak. Lychee Tapioca with Passion Fruit Chiboust and Passion Fruit Jam lacked balance (on both visits). The former suffered from being too passion-fruit-y; the latter too lychee-fied. There was not enough clarity from the coconut milk. Pineapple Fritter fared better but still was nowhere near the success of the savoury dishes. Here it was served with salted lime jelly, morsels of fresh lime, vanilla ice cream and the alcohol in which the pineapple was poached. I found the citric sharpness to be too domineering. Interestingly enough, and contrary to the desserts, the petir fours – 5-spiced financier, Szechuan peppercorn truffle, pumpkin and ginger macaroon, and durian mochi ice cream – were brilliant. My favourite went straight to durian mochi, which was instructed to be eaten last (so the ice cream inside melted). Quite special. The taste of milk did not kill the deliciously rotten smell of durian but perfectly mellow it out. It also enjoyed the contrast of the liquid-y, milky essence and the gummy exterior.

And yes, despite all my criticisms, HKK is pristine, delicious and very exciting (and perhaps the second-best Asian opening of 2012 after you-know-where).

 

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RATING 4.5/5

HKK BY HAKKASAN

Broadgate West
88 Worship Street
EC2A 2BE

Tel. 020 3535 1888

www.hkklondon.com

Hkk on Urbanspoon