What I say:
Noryangjin Seafood Market is the “Tsukiji” of Seoul, South Korea, and a great attraction if.. well.. you are into fish. There are many endless rows of fish and shellfish. Some are live; some frozen; others fermented and kimchi-ed.
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.
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.
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.
THAI GRILL @ BAR STORY
213 Blenheim Grove
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
(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 >_<
Avinguda Paral-lel, 164
What We Say:
IF you want a German Christmas market experience of your life – let me be blunt – Hannover is not it. Though the history of the city dated back prior to the Holy Roman Empire, most of its pretty, fortress-y Medieval features were destroyed in WWII. And I was left with a rather depressing conglomeration of post-war buildings, refurbishings and a shopping scene where 4-floored Primark reigned supreme. I didn’t make a destination out of Hannover. I was merely passing by. I wasn’t entirely disappointed…
In another more serious note, the Weihnachtsmarkt is of a decent size. There are three different markets. One is situated in the Market Church (the most attractive spot where all the photos you’ll find on the Internet are taken); another is the Finnish Christmas Market on the Ballhofplatz; and a Medieval X’mas village in between.
How to Get There:
From the Hbf/ train station, look out for stalls. They form a path or two for you to stroll your way around the three markets. Very easy.
Best to Go:
in Hannover aren’t the most excessively lit or the most eye-watering polychrome, especially when compared to my last year trips to Koln and Dortmund. For a need to bask in the Christmas scene, it’s best to go near sunset and hang around until all is lit up and glowing. I arrived in early afternoon and the city looked un-atmospheric.
What to Get:
There are the usual stuff – wursts, mulled wine, gingerbread, candied apples, chestnuts, etc. – but I detected a lot of mini puffy square doughnuts, (French) crepes, and reibekuchen (deep fried potato fritters). The average price for all was no more than €3, with the exception of supersized things. Oddly enough, a few stalls sold stir-fried noodles.
The main bit..
Moving on to the Medieval bit and the Finnish Market. The smell of flamed grilled salmon (flammlachs) really perfumed the air.. and my coat -___-
Back to the Church Market.
The XXL Currywurst glared at me at €4 (How much does a Bratwurst cost at Winter Wonderland!?).
YES SS :-9
Fire play at the Finnish/ Medieval Market. The woman was good. The guy (behind) dropped all the burning torches he juggled!!
And.. if you don’t quite fancy a German market, do settle for a Guinness >_<
How much do you know about Singapore?
Me.. not an awful lot. I transit there. I buy stuff from its airport during transit. I eat at, well, at its Starbucks. So, when it comes to proper Singaporean food, I am a real novice. Plusixfive, run by Goz at an undisclosed, yet relatively central location, comes in handy, a great way to initiate me (and you) to this vast Singaporean foodscape. It also runs a strict policy of no SG fried noodle!!
Who is Goz?
A Singaporean happy chap.. slimmer than The Skinny Bib (damn).. with a day-time job and a raw talent for cooking. In a compact flat and a living room with an open plan kitchen, he cooks a storm using self-taught means and instinct. The front of house of the evening was Wen and Eunice, who also contributed dishes.
The theme of the evening was “A Singaporean Day in A Meal” demystified as a playfully rapid succession of typical Singaporean breakfast, brunch, afternoon snack and dinner dishes over a leisurely period of 3-4 hours. 16 diners. Recommended donation was £30. BYO. No corkage charge…
My breakfast of Chwee Kueh was this little voluptuous rice cake steeply toppled with dried chilli-infused pickled radish. Low heat. The chopped turnip had a bit of crunch to go with the delicately gummy cake. And then it was brunch. Fried chicken chunks, wings, legs to go with Nasi Lemak. This banana leaf wrapped parcel revealed steamed rice flavoured with coconut milk, deep fried anchovies, boiled quail’s egg and peanuts. I smeared the sweet Sambal and stirred. Very alluring coconut-y aroma. And those fried chickens!! Superbly moist meat. The batter was infused with curry powder and expertly aerated. Gozzz.. why can I never find this in a restaurant!!!??
Also authentically executed was this Rojak served (as you would have it in South East Asia) on a paper plate. This snack dish of savoury fruit salad was tossed in sticky palm sugar dressing infused with shrimp paste. The sweetness and the smelly, fishy saltiness blended well with juicy pineapple, crunchy cucumber, crispy fried dough and sauteed beansprouts. Together with crushed peanuts and shredded dry squid, it was a maelstrom of flavours and textures. LOVED IT!!!! The other snack of Kuih Pai Tee boasts lightest and wafer-crispy “Top Hat”-like casings deep filled with deliciously braised shredded shitake mushrooms, jicama and carrots. The portion was so generous I ended up with five of them
(and if you wonder what the heck is that metal thing, Goz uses it to make the casing by dipping it into liquid flour mixture and into hot oil. not easy!!)
Goz’s Beef Rendang was magical. Hours of slow-cooked cheeks meant it pleasantly dissolved on my tongue. Flavour-wise, the Rendang was moderately spiced but could fare better (with me) with a little more punch-me-in-the-face kind of heat. I was more besotted to his perfect five-a-day option of stir fried glass vermicelli, cabbage, tofu and cloud ears. Also noteworthy was this “guest” dish by Wen of Pork Belly Mui Choi. Very unctuous belly cubes, superbly spiced and caramelised. A little sweetness, sensuous fat layer and meaty firmness…. I could eat a whole pot of this. Braised mui choi was also a force to reckon with providing crunch and salted acidity to contrast with the belly.
Wen shares her recipe with us here ^_^
The evening concluded with a trio of desserts: a zingy palate cleanser of lime ice, then palm sugar ice cream with very bouncy tapioca disc, and Milo truffle injected with condensed milk. The latter was Eunice’s contribution. Very intense and it leaked childhood memory in my mouth!
Plusixfive gives what £30 can never vouch for. A sensational meal with care and consideration. Home-made flavours and Asian generosity. Refined touches and a well-thought out menu that shatters Singaporean food stereotype and puts restaurants to shame. Of all supper clubs I have been to, Plusixfive has made the most impact. And by the time I was re-lacing my boots (Plusixfive is an Asian home and you will be required to remove shoes), I seriously contemplated a reprise!!
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So stay tuned..
If you want to try this out yourselves or compete for seats with me at bookings, subscribe to Plusixfive Supper Club or follow Goz on Twitter ( @plusixfive ).