All posts filed under “Mexican

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Is Nobu History?

I first came across Miss Amber Rose, model and Kayne West’s ex, at the Ashish A/W 11-12 show at London Fashion Week. “SHE” was basking in the flashlights and seated in the front row; “I” in the 5th row, which was still better than not having a seat at all. Never in a million years would I imagine that just a night after “SHE” would be shown a seat next to me at Nobu Berkeley Street. The restaurant has been, for more than half a decade, one of those kinda places that lure in glam and rich diners: suited gentlemen of Mayfair, pretty ladies, most of which arrive in their pretty black cocktail dresses, and of course celebrities. There are red ropes – no carpet – and bouncers at the front and beautiful, elegant hostesses at the reception desk. This was not my first time at Berkeley Street, though I must admit I hadn’t been to Nobu B for 2 years. During those two years, I had read, the service turned snooty, which I still have not experienced. The Front of House was accommodating, thoughtful and fairly knowledgeable.

And the food? You know, Nobu Matsuhira is a legend. His relocation to Peru in the 70s to work – as well as the lack of Japanese produce in such a continent – prompted him to incorporate Peruvian ingredients in his “Japanese” cooking. This unique cooking style soon became the benchmark of his career and in 1993 he opened the first Nobu in partnership with Robert de Niro. Now, there are, if my maths is correct, around 23 Nobus around the globe, three of which – Las Vegas, London and Berkeley Street – hold a Michelin star. Undoubtedly, there are lines of inspired chefs who have come out of the Nobu kitchen and won critical acclaimed. Say, in London, the guys at Dinings and Yashin Sushi.

Dishes ..

I opted away from the black cod miso, the Nobu signature that has been replicated all over the world and has become, well, boring. The drink menu, considering there was a super hip bar on the ground floor, was underwhelming. Limited amount of not-so-unique cocktails and no alcoholic drinks. The tea list was brief… and a whole pot of tea could only fill two cups. Without the free refill, of course.

STARTERS

(1) Nobu Tacos of Lobster and Scallop + (2) New Style Tuna
There were four pieces, two deep filled with raw chopped scallops and the other with cooked and flaked lobster meat. This came with a rather tangy, very smooth guacamole. All the flavours, to us, did not combine well. The strong guacamole overpowered the more subtle flavour of the tacos. As far as an argument could go, one may opt to put less of the guacamole in? Well, then it would become just bland, lobster and scallop filled wafers? The New Style Tuna fared slightly better. Good quality sashimi lightly torched on one side, served on a bed of soy and oil dressing, and toppled with spring onion, ginger and sesame seeds. I found the sashimi drowned in the pool of oil. There was no dimension in the dressing. That said, the topping, especially the ginger, did revive the dish a little bit.

HOT DISHES AND WOOD OVEN

(3) Rock Shrimp Tempura with Creamy Spicy + (4) Snow Crab and Jalepenos + (5) Brown Rice Miso Paella with Chicken
The rock shrimp is another of Nobu favourites. This was a hit for us, too. Bouncy rock shrimps were lush; the batter, considering it was coated with the creamy spicy sauce, crispy; and above all else, there was this wooden, earthy aroma of the mushroom in the mixture. The portion was generous. I got worried, as I had ordered quite a few dishes and asked the waiter to take one order off. She had no problem at our request. That’s good service, wasn’t it? Back to the shrimp, the creamy spicy sauce had this right balance between creaminess and heat. You know, anything with mayo texture and a hint of mayo sweetness would go down well with mild chilli. This was one of those!

The Snow Crab, however, was way too spicy. It came as if a gratin dish – sizzlingly hot and with a distinct fragrance of Jalepenos – but without the cheese! The creamy spicy topping was luridly green and, as it was well heated, oozed grease. The finely sliced spring onions inside couldn’t really help lift up the flavours; the crab roe was, well, pointless as it only added sandy texture but no flavours. I did have to give some credit to the highest quality snow crab Nobu sourced, though. Very meaty, but among all that topping, the flavour of the crab, which was meant to be primary, went amiss.

And, my paella! This dish, I hate to say, would have been brilliant if I hadn’t been so filled with the greasy snow crab dish. The rice was nicely cooked and retained enjoyable bites. The miso, very subtly, sweetened the dish. The succulent chicken, pre-grilled, added another dimension of sweetness, while the mixed mushrooms, steamed with the rice in the wood oven, added earthy flavours and aroma. This was finished with the generous sprinkle of chopped chives and dried chilli strings, which gave life, freshness and mild heat to the dish. That said, this was a very, very heavy dish – as many of Nobu creations are – and having it successively after the rock shrimps and the snow crab did do me good. Say, too much of sickly sweetness and mayo-meet-miso infused grease in my mouth. This, to me, was the downfall of Nobu. You shouldn’t be ordering too many of their signature dishes at one meal as the good dishes were streamlined towards creaminess.

SUSHI

Grand selection of sushi and sashimi but quite ridiculously priced. Great and fatty tuna belly was priced at £8 something apiece, the same price as Kikuchi; the botan ebi was luxuriously creamy and naturally sweet, which I found reasonably priced at £5.50 apiece as they usually cost more in other high-end venues; the smelt egg gunkans were lazily wrapped and seemed falling apart; the tamago was sponge-cake-like and tasted more of a dessert than a savoury treat, though I felt the one at Yashin Sushi was much better. The rice – loose, dry and under-vinegared – was a real let down.

DESSERTS

( 7) After Hatchi: Mint Brulee with Shiso Ice Cream + (8) Assorted Moji Ice Cream

I had a hard time ordering a dessert, not because I was so stuffed by the succession of massive dishes, but because all but one dessert dish had chocolate in. I understand, the gastronomic highlight of South America was chocolate but was there a need to have it in almost all dishes? I don’t hate chocolate but I just didn’t feel like having it! Hence? Yes, hence the moji ice cream. The skin of glutinous moji was superb and the ice cream filling was rich. There were three different flavours: ponzu sorbet – citrusy and refreshing – green tea – very dark and indulgent! – and vanilla – of course it came with chocolate coating (picture below). Argh!!!!!!

My other bib’s After Hatchi, plated up to resemble a Yin/Yang sign, was an alright dish. The brulee was silky and minty but, wait!, there was no “brulee” on the top? How could you call this a brulee, when in fact, it was cream that set… There was an equally minty flavour and aroma from the Shiso ice cream, which I found one ingredient too many. The frozen chocolate power did not add much either. Just the cold and the bitterness that didn’t particularly gel with the rest. First time I didn’t have food envy?

So, what did I make of Nobu Berkeley Street? The ambiance was vibrant; the team adequately efficient; the food was, sadly, stuck in the past and lacking in Michelin-starred refinement. Many dishes tasted, more or less, similar to each other and in this case, should I have only ordered one dish per person? Well, the table right on the other side of me, not Miss Rose’s, seemed to have done so. Two young ladies in sleek black cocktail dresses – one ordered a big bowl of edamame, a hand roll maki and a drink, the other shared the edamame, had her own drink and a bowl of ice cream. They asked for the bill the same time as we. Maybe that’s how one should enjoy Nobu. Just basking the scene, lingering on the booze and not having to care too much about the food…

But, for a similarly celeb-infested scene, a similarly high price tag but with better food, try Zuma.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “6 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “5 out of 10″.

NOBU BERKELEY STREET

15 Berkeley Street
Mayfair
London
W1J 8DY

Tel. 020 7290 9222

www.noburestaurants.com

Nobu Berkeley on Urbanspoon

PS IF you fancy a Latino fusion treat without totally killing your salary, go for the “Third Burger” at Hawksmoor Seven Dials. They’re doing the new Mexican Bobcat with a mountain of cheese and Jalepenos. It was, truly, a fiery bliss!

FULL REVIEW OF HAWKSMOOR HERE

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When Burritos Go High Street

You might not have heard that the world’s renown Mexican street food burritos, indeed, dated back to the days of the Aztec; or that the term “burrito” means “little donkey” suggestive of the shape of the tortilla wrap that resembles a donkey’s ear. For the filling, you opt for different types of meat; the usual are grilled steak, carnitas (slow cooked pork with cinnamon, cilantro, oregano), barbacoa (slow cooked beef with juniper, cumin, chilli) or chicken tinga (cooked with onion and chipotle marinate). You might also not know that there are differences between a Mexican burrito and an American one. All we know is that very recently the burritos have invaded many of London’s high street and major business areas. Judging from the long queue at Mas Burritos on St Martin’s Lane in Covent Garden at lunch hours, it seems that burritos have become the “new” sandwich. Of course, there are reasons for that. They are hot, filling and absolutely meaty-licious! And as much as I hate to admit, I am among those people waiting for my Mexican fix…

Wait! I’ll correct my words. … I am among those people waiting for my American fix!

The popular burritos places on the high street sell not authentic Mexican burritos but the modified American version. The differences? The Mexican burritos are small and sound kinda dull – with only meat, rice and refried beans as fillings. The American counterpart is much bigger – explaining why many Americans are obese and many Mexicans have become Miss World? – and with unlimited choices of fillings from rice, refried beans, meat, to lettuce, guacamole, salsa, cheese and whatever else you want to put in. Mexican or American, I don’t really care. These little donkey ears are just amazing. So, let’s compare what’s on offer from the most popular burritos cafes in London!

CHILANGO

Chilango on Urbanspoon

This is where I first had my burritos and fell (almost) in love with it. The one I visited today is the Fleet Street branch – there is another Chilango on Upper Street, Islington. Good vibe, colourful decor with the highlights on pink stools and the glass counter where you may observe the staff make fresh guacamole. The Subway-style menu layout makes it easy to order. Pick your style of burritos, your meat, your veggie and your sauce. You don’t need background knowledge in Mexican food as all things are labelled in easy English terms – pork, steak, chicken. Good things about Chilango are that (1) many things are made on the premise and (2) they mostly source British produce. Price-wise – say, one burritos with one drink – it won’t cost you more than £7.

Verdict of the Day?

Massive burritos, served almost hot and with a cute logo! The fillings, however, were not drained well enough and the juice went all over the place. I was really conscious eating this as the thing I wore cost .. well .. a lot! Also, it was not wrapped tightly enough. On this occasion, I went for the pork filling, which was mild to the point of blandness. They have Cholula Hot Sauce and Tabasco on the side for Mexico-Americano masochists. All in all? Not my pick, I’m afraid.

MAS BURRITOS

Mas Burritos on Urbanspoon

The Covent Garden branch – as there is the other branch in Chancery Lane – is my neighbourhood cafe. Vibrant scene, little cactus decoration and friendly staff. And it’s exactly where I turned a burritos addict. The menu requires more knowledge into the Mexican terms. You’ll be reading carnitas instead of pork, barbacoa instead of beef and you should also be able to differentiate between grilled chicken and chicken tinga. For a burritos virgin, you might find yourself baffled by all that. Adding to the linguistic drawbacks, the ingredients are not prepared at the premise. One burritos here plus one drink will cost around £6.50.

Verdict of the Day?

This is my most favourite high street burrito place, though the piece isn’t as eye-bulgingly massive as at Chilango. The fillings are usually well drained and tightly wrapped, which truly facilitates the eating! The meat, whatever you pick, is bold in its flavours and the spices come through nicely. But, the burritos here are never as hot as at Chilango. My favourite picks are Barbecoa – deep, dark and rich – and Chicken Tinga – sweet and tender. The packaging is not consistent, though. If you opt to eat in and are lucky, you’ll get poshed up basket with free nachos. If the luck isn’t on your side, you’ll get a paper plate. That said, Mas Burritos houses the best selection of Cholula Hot Sauce – sorry I’m a real chilli whore – with choices from the Original, the Garlic and Chilli to the super heated Chipotle mix. This is my pick, of course!

Lucky day …

Not-so-lucky day … but the burritos are always very good! The thing is called Mas Fajitas – with peppers and onions instead of refried beans – with Chicken Tinga.

CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL

Chipotle Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

This is a true American import and I understand it was much anticipated, not the same sense as Dinner by Heston, I must add. The place looks a bit like a factory cafeteria and lacks warmth. The price is a little more upmarket than the rest mentioned in this post. Say, one burrito plus one drink will cost around £8. The menu is easy to read – beef, pork, chicken – though its American original uses terms like Carnitas and Barbacoa.

Verdict of the Day?

I asked for a naked burritos with barbacoa. Great quality meat. Well seasoned and well cooked, though not as rich and bold as Mas Burritos. Overall, this does worth a pound extra. To me, there is no negative about Chipotle and it’s down to preference only!

Tucking in …

BENITO’S HAT

Benito's Hat on Urbanspoon

The last one and it’s also round my corner. Benito’s Hat on New Row looks more like a cheap canteen but the price range is similar to Chilango, and it proves on a couple of occasions with robotic staff. They shout, “Guacamole, salsa and cheese?”, but as my preference goes, when I tell them to opt out the guacamole and the cheese, I can often see this horrific look on their face, as if I bugger their burritos. The menu reads easy, like Chilango. Actually, it reads easier. I once asked for a naked burritos, a common terminology for a burritos without the tortilla wrap. Again, the staff looked mortified. Enough said…

Verdict of the Day?

This came as a surprise. My burritos was wrapped in a near square shape. It was hard to eat. The meat was also not nicely drained and at the end of the quick meal my hands were wet. Smell-wise? My cat mistook my hand for that of the burritos I’d just eaten. Also, the proportion of everything inside was just wrong. Too much rice, not enough meat. Bla bla bla .. I wasn’t impressed at all. Well, in their defense, you’ll always get free nachos.

I hope this helps you find the burritos of your choice in London!

Hasta pronto xx