Monthly Archives

July 2015


Salvation In Noodles, Dalston

July 29, 2015


Vietnamese food is a wonderful thing. It’s not as reliant on the deep fryer as Chinese. Instead of the sweetness of Korean gochujang sauce, you get the salty tang of fish sauce and the tartness of lemon. And herbs. Plenty of fresh herbs. Thanks to my grandmother, I grew up eating Vietnamese food. So I have to admit that I approached Salvation in Noodles with a bit of skepticism. Trendy Dalston Vietnamese joint? As if! But I was pleasantly surprised, mostly with the quality of the starters! We started off light with the classic prawn summer roll. It looks a bit limp here but it tasted fresh – and there was a decent sprinkling of fresh herbs.


Onto the Vietnamese fried pork spring rolls. Interesting presentation – lab dissection style. The outside was perfectly crispy while the pork had a really nice flavour, complimented by the fish sauce dip.

Vietnamese chicken salad starter – again I appreciate the monstrous rice cracker protruding from the small bowl but it didn’t really add anything in terms of taste. A light, refreshing starter – not too salty or overloaded with fish sauce.

Which leads me to this – the deep fried chicken wings. OH MY WORD. I have to preface this by saying that my spirit animal is a bucket of fried chicken. These are a must-order – perfectly crispy and seasoned to perfection. Again with fish sauce. We  ordered another round of these.

By the time the mains arrived, I was on my way to feeling pretty stuffed. Not helped by the fact that I had just returned from a holiday where I had doubled in size. The pho had a flavourful broth and the noodles were nicely cooked and not overdone. But I wasn’t blown away. Even though pho looks pretty simple to prepare, it’s actually very difficult to get right. My mom actually starts making the broth the day before, so it’s no surprise that a lot of restaurants struggle with recreating that rich, complex full-bodied flavour.

This was the clear winner of the night – Bun vermicelli noodles with Vietnamese pork sausage patties, herbs, salad and fish sauce. SO GOOD. I wish I had ordered this one. It came with a generous helping of coriander but almost too much vermicelli? I might be splitting hairs here but when you mixed everything together – the noodles took over. As vermicelli is quite tasteless on its own, I was left with a heaving bowl of noodles. Seriously, there was enough to fashion a vermicelli wig.

The Bun Vermicelli noodles with prawn were tasty but nothing to write home about. If you’re on the fence about what to order, I would definitely recommend ordering the Bun Vermicelli noodles with pork over the prawns.

Update: Salvation in Noodles has finally opened their new outpost down the street from us in Finsbury Park at 2 Blackstock Road, N4 2DL. Next to a chicken shop, of course. I think every shop or restaurant in this area is mentored by a chicken shop – I can even see a chicken shop from my front window. Added bonus? It happens to be around the corner from our favourite Korean restaurant, Dotori. The Asian food situation in Finsbury Park can really only go up from here.


SIN (Salvation in Noodles) 
122 Balls Pond Road 
London N1 4AE

The Ranelagh, Bounds Green

July 27, 2015

I have a staunch love of North London. Newington Green was the first place I ever lived, and while it very much felt like the ‘hood back then, it’s now an enclave of artisan bakeries, overpriced pizza and the “gastropub”. Now a proud dweller of the much-maligned Finsbury Park (SO MANY TRANSPORT LINKS, HOMESLICE), I still can’t say I’ve ever ventured further north than Crouch End (another hive of organic shops and yoga pants). Today was the day I would ride to Bounds Green! Fried chicken and waffles were waiting.

The pub itself is fantastic – lovely atmosphere with long wooden tables and friendly bar staff. There was even a bouncy castle outside in the garden (!!!) and a whole posse of people celebrating a 21st birthday with a guest list that ranged from aged 2 to 90. The first thing I ordered was a Bloody Mary – perfectly spiced and refreshingly cold. No celery or salted rim but let’s not split hairs as it was freaking delicious.

Top marks all around for the burger with sweet potato chips.

I patiently waited for my fried chicken platter while those-who-shall-not-be-named around me ate their fried chicken with waffles and maple syrup. I don’t know who came up with serving up fried chicken with waffles but it’s in my top 10 food pairings. Not everyone’s cup of tea but the combination of sweet and savoury is divine if you’re into that type of thing. I had two beefs with this dish though – the fried chicken was well-battered yet tasted of vinegar. The chicken wasn’t deboned before placing on the waffle. And there were limp parsley leaves garnishing it – so unnecessary. BEGONE LIMP LETTUCE LEAVES. You’re not wanted here.

The actual fried chicken platter was no different. The fried chicken was delicately battered and nicely seasoned – but there was a very distracting vinegary taste to it. It’s not that it was a bad thing, it just overpowered the entire dish. This didn’t bother everyone though, so if this sounds vile to you make sure you ask the kitchen to lay off the vinegar. The chips? Perfectly crunchy and moreish, as a good chip should be.

The Eggs Florentine arrived atop a couple of hamburger buns. Ex-squeeze me? Are English muffins not sold in Bounds Green? This is the 2nd time I’ve seen this and I don’t understand. Just put a muffin on it y’all.

The best meal by far was the Chicken and Ham Hock pie. So British. I had a couple of bites and the flavours were rich and satisfying and the crust was nice and flaky. I regret nothing, but next time I come here I’ll probably order this dish. There is also poutine on the menu. It is not real poutine.

We had a delightful afternoon sitting in the garden after lunch so I would wholeheartedly recommend this pub for anyone Bounds Green-bound. The food in general was great with a few duds here and there. But if you’re searching for amazing fried chicken, your best bet is to go to a place with the word “diner” or “mama” in it – I’ve actually had incredible fried chicken with waffles at Stax Diner in Carnaby Street, London. Or just git yer ass down to Little Rock, Arkansas. I imagine Bill Clinton’s hometown would serve up a mean chicken and waffles.

What to order: Chicken and ham hock pie, fried chicken and waffles (hold the vinegar), Burger with sweet potato chips and the Bloody Mary

The Ranelagh
82 Bounds Green Rd
London N11 2EU

Sidrería Astarbe, Bilbao

July 26, 2015

At a conference in Bilbao last week the organisers took a bunch of us out to one of San Sebastian’s famous cider houses. It’s definitely an experience to be recommended. The one we went to was called Astarbe. And they also sell their cider bottled. Some sort of cider making operation has stood on the site for the last 450 years.

We started by being told the rules for the evening. We should help ourselves to the cider from these 10,000 litre barrels. Just pouring a little bit each time from a great height to give the cool, very dry, cider some air and bubbles. Each barrel held between 8,000 – 12,000 litres. A mere 20,000 pints of cider.

So, yes. We should help ourselves at any time. But whenever our hosts yelled out txotx it was mandatory to come up and charge our cider glasses. Challenged accepted Basques!

The food was a set menu and would be coming out shortly. So, drink some cider! Make plenty of toasts and come back to the tables for each course. A perfectly informal experience.

The grill was right next to the long communal dining tables, and when we walked in the staff were cutting 2 inch steaks from a whole side of beef.

The first course that came out was a large omelette, inside the eggs were every so slightly runny and mixed with salted cod (bacalao) and oily fried shallots which everyone ate with crusty baguettes. Its called Tortilla de Bacalao and it’s the traditional starter at all these cider houses.

After a few more trips to the cider barrels some grilled fish arrived. Not entirely sure what the variety was and couldn’t ask! But it was thick fillets, white, and fleshy. Grilled with a topping of mushrooms and fried onions. It had been heavily salted. Maybe even preserved briefly in salt? But definitely not dried.

More toasts and trips to the barrels the steak came out. The cut they were using was called Chuletón de Buey. Which was a bone in rib steak. The sirloin side of the t-bone with some extra fat attached. And it was great. Thick, expertly cooked, and very fatty. One guy told me that the basque buy the fattiest beef that the rest of Europe doesn’t want because it’s the best. And since grilled fat equals flavour this was pretty damn tasty. They served one of these monsters between four people and then came around afterwards and asked if we wanted more. Which about half of us did. The only thing they added to the meat was a sprinkle of salt.

The final course combined walnuts, quince jelly, and a mild cheese. A nice simple end to the meal that went perfectly with the cider everyone was still drinking. It’s like they’ve done this before a few hundred thousand times over the last 450 years that a cider house has stood in this location.

The whole thing cost around €35, including as much cider as you wanted to drink.


Seaside Eats, Whitstable

July 23, 2015

Full disclosure. I don’t know how to swim. I diligently took lessons as a kid and earned a yellow badge. Or maybe my mother bribed a swim instructor – I’ll never know. But the fact remains, I am a grown-ass woman who can’t float in a body of water. But far from seeing a large body of water as something menacing, I find myself really missing its presence. In Vancouver, the ocean is always there. Staring at it (from a safe distance) from a rock on the beach is the most peaceful feeling in the world. But what about The River Thames, you ask? Staring into its murky depths, I think of the Thames as more of a throwback to my favourite kind of unrelentingly grim Scandinavian murder show.

I first discovered Whitstable four years ago when I went to the famed Whitstable Oyster Festival. Only an hour by train from London and full of fresh oysters, seafood and salty sea air – I arrived full of unbridled enthusiasm and spent the weekend happily queuing for sauteed scallops, cockles, calamari and of course, fresh oysters. I sat on the rocky beach and stared into the sea like a maniac. I loved it immediately and started “looking for flats” despite being balls deep into my overdraft. I’ve gone back once more for the oyster festival, and while I always have a great time (word of advice: don’t wash down raw oysters with an oreo milkshake – ugh), I think you’ll have a much better time if you go on a less busy weekend.

I highly recommend getting an Air B&B flat if you’re staying for more than a day. We went from Friday afternoon to Sunday and went to the seafood market everyday. Starting with these magnificent sauteed scallops. Oh my word, these were heavenly! I had not seen a scallop like this in years so was beside myself.

And the fresh crabs! Usually I prefer lobster as it is less work to eat with more of a payoff. But if you have the opportunity to get some fresh crab – don’t pass it up. These were just simply boiled and then served with a dijon mustard/mayonnaise sauce. Or you can never go wrong with some hot garlic butter sauce. I’m getting palpitations just thinking about it.

I can be very disorganised so despite putting a reminder in my calendar and being reminded by our wonderful Air B&B hosts, Jason and Simon, to make sure I made a reservation at one of the restaurants ahead of time…I didn’t. I rang up the day we were arriving (the start of a long weekend) to inquire about a table for two. Somewhere. ANYWHERE. I could hear their disdain over the phone. Bitch, please. I’m not a huge fish & chip fan but we popped into a local shop on the high street for an “evening snack” and it was pretty tasty.

Luckily we took a morning stroll on the Saturday and popped into the Royal Native Oyster Stores right on the beach – and walked straight into a cancelled booking. I love it when my inability to plan in advance is so handsomely rewarded.

The smaller oysters are the Irish Rock Oysters, the larger one are Whitstable Bay rock oysters. I preferred the larger ones, because bigger is better. This also applies to hair, guinea pigs and serving sizes. Honestly I can’t REALLY tell the difference between types of oysters. I need more practice.

Razor clams! I’ve never actually seen these before in real life. These were delicious! I don’t normally like clams (unless they’ve been blended into Clamato juice). They’re just so tiny, I can barely taste them. What’s the point? But these were substantial enough to sink my teeth into. Excellent.

Moules Marinier – an old favourite. The best part is dipping some freshly baked baguette bread into the sauce. Heaven. The bill came to £80 for lunch but that included some white wine. A bit pricey for lunch but the seafood was quality, the service was prompt and friendly and when I’m on holiday I tend to spend money like I’m Dr. Dre so this seemed reasonable at the time.

Self-explanatory asparagus with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. Don’t even remember eating these, was so fixated on the oysters! Am sure they were good…



Finished the weekend off by having a giant salted caramel oreo ice cream and buying some last minute tat for my “hoarder’s corner” at home. If you’re looking for a nice little weekend getaway not far from London and love seafood, I can’t recommend Whitstable enough!

We stayed in this lovely one bedroom Air B&B flat – the location was perfect as we were right on the main high street and moments away from the beach as well. Plus, we had the best hosts so highly recommend staying here if you’re after a cosy one-bedroom.

They recommended a whole list of restaurants which we didn’t have time to try: Elliotts @ No.1 Harbour Street (named as one of the top 40 restaurants in the UK by The Guardian), JoJo’s Meze, Meat and Fish Restaurant (booking opens two weeks in advance – it’s cash only), Oyster Stores (the only one we made it to!), Pearson’s Arms (nicer upstairs and across from Oyster Stores), The Cheesebox (they have takeaway cheese fondue!!), Wheelers Oyster Bar, or The Duke, Dave’s Deli and Windy Corner for lunch.


The Union Tavern, Westbourne Park

July 22, 2015

This post was inspired by the fact that my ideal Sunday involves not leaving the house. Sunny day? I have windows. Hungry? There’s a well-stocked corner shop downstairs that stocks everything my heart desires – Doritos, hummus, Diet Coke. There are even meatballs in a can for those who have truly given up on life. But when a dear friend had his birthday at a pub in West London on a rainy Sunday, I put on my game face and not only left the house, but left North London. Dear God.

A quick check of the pub menu and I was pleasantly surprised to see ribs, chicken wings and pulled pork buns. We had a disastrous meal at a BBQ pop-up in a North London pub recently so I was reserving judgment. But I still diligently wore my most stretchy pants, because if I’ve learned one thing – sub-par food doesn’t stop me from eating until I feel sick. Bleh?

The first thing I laid eyes on were the chilli cheese fries. Not a common thing to find in the UK, these were slightly spicy, comforting and had the added bonus of both melted cheese and perfectly cooked french fries. Plus, the presentation can’t be faulted. It’s not easy to make beef mince, fries and cheese look like this – it’s usually a big ‘ol mess. Look how pretty!

HOT WINGS! Are these Canadian sports bar worthy? Would there be blue cheese dip? Yes and no. Nice and zingy but not so hot that it blows your head off, these were exactly what I wanted on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Definitely could have eaten more but there a lot of people I didn’t know around me and I desperately needed a bib.

A friend’s pulled pork bun looked impressive. I was assured it was delicious. I stared at it but didn’t sample. Low-carbing innit. LOL

I had only planned to nibble on a few wings this afternoon but I simply had to sample the mac & cheese. Surrounded by Australians and New Zealanders, by default I was the mac & cheese authority at the table. Hah! This was a solid 7/10. Creamy, al dente pasta with the right amount of cheesy flavour.

Since we were celebrating a birthday, it would be rude to not have dessert. This brownie sundae arrived looking smug and impressive. The perfect end to a blow-out meal, it’s obviously a super rich dessert but didn’t taste sickly if that makes sense! Would highly recommend this pub for a lazy weekend day – felt like I was back in Canada! It’s right across the street from Westbourne Park tube station and has both hot wings and mac & cheese!

What to order: Hot wings, chili cheese fries, brownie sundae

The Union Tavern 
45 Woodfield Road
W9 2BA