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Rasa Sayang, Chinatown

January 26, 2015

We’re at that age where we sometimes go to the theatre on a Saturday night. But not quite old enough to start believing that a pre-dinner menu in Leicester Square is a smashing idea. Maybe in 20 years time you’ll see my shadowy figure behind the glass of the Piccadilly Circus flagship of Angus Steak House. After literally having the door slammed in my face at Leong’s Legend next door and with only an hour to spare before we had to be in our seats, we slunk over to Rasa Sayang, a Malaysian Singaporean restaurant in Chinatown that was also at full capacity.

I live for ho fun (stir fried flat rice noodles) and this looked like the closest thing on the menu. All of their dishes have a helpful, full-colour photo next to an actual description. Very considerate. This was the char kuay teow (wok-fried flat noodles in superior dark sauce and fresh seafood). Yum. Nothing to write poetry about but tasty just the same.

Keeping in mind that we had an hour before we had to be in our seats, we ordered Singapore Chilli Crab (fresh crab wok-fried in signature spices and chilli, topped off with velvety beaten eggs). By the time it actually arrived we had 40 minutes to go. I nearly broke a tooth on that crab as the elderly couple at the next table looked on in utter horror. With 15 minutes to go I was shovelling the delicious sauce into my mouth and mainlining clumps of steamed rice like they were tic tacs. Mmm. No time to savour.

Now the wings were a little disappointing. The sauce was sickeningly sweet. At this point there were still about 4 wings left and I had precious little time to spare. So I went for it. But even my best efforts could not overcome the cloying sweetness of the sauce. During the entire play I could smell chicken wing sauce wafting around my general area. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.


Rasa Sayang
5 Macclesfield Street
London W1D 6AY
www.rasasayangfood.com

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Hong Kong Street Snacking

January 12, 2015

Didn’t even eat here, but just had to take a photo because of the glorious Street Fighter II reference.

Hot Hong Kong egg tarts, crumbly pastry and hot hot (ow, ow) custard.

Woman making egg tarts, pouring hot custard into the pastry shells.

Ubiquitous fish balls. Supposedly 4 million of these are eaten each day in HK. They’re cheap, absolutely everywhere, springy, definitely fishy, and are usually boiled in a strong curry sauce.

Basic deep fried crab claw

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Tim Ho Wan Dim Sum, Hong Kong

January 11, 2015

I am not a morning person. But arriving in Hong Kong at 5am had its advantages. After dropping off our luggage at the hotel and prowling the streets like vagrants, we got in the queue for Tim Ho Wan (which means “to add good luck” in Cantonese) at 9:30am, Hong Kong’s Michelin Star dim sum. As you can see, there was already a pretty sizeable posse forming outside. Making polite conversation with each other until the 10am opening time was excruciating. JUST LET US IN.

About 10 minutes before opening time we were handed little order forms by a woman who looked upon the lot of us in serious disdain. Excitement was rising.

At 10am on the dot the doors were opened and since we had arrived so early we immediately got seated. Jostling with locals to find a table we were hustled into a window seat and our pink order slip taken. I’ve read some reviews that have mentioned the brusque manner of the staff but haven’t they ever eaten in a real Chinese restaurant? I didn’t find it that unusual. I mean if I want to be mollycoddled, I’ll go to Nandos.

One of their signature dishes, the Baked Buns with BBQ Pork came out first. This is how addictions are born. OMG. Perfectly flaky pastry crust that tasted incredibly light and airy. The pork was the classic char siu so was pretty sweet. By far my favourite dish.

Another signature dish, the Pan-Fried Turnip Cake was unlike every turnip cake I’ve ever eaten, which is a sizeable amount. The texture again was light, flaky and not at all stodgy – it melted in your mouth. Served with a chilli sauce.

Vermicelli Roll with Pig’s Liver was another famed specialty that H really enjoyed. I’m no fan of liver so just had one tiny bite. The consensus – not too “livery” and had a subtle porky flavour. I prefer the prawn version of this.

Steamed dumplings Chiu Chow style, which refers to the transparent dumpling skins named after a region around Shantou in Southeast China. Peanuts, vegetables, dried shrimp and some pork – so tasty.

I could never go for dim sum and not order the classic Har Gau prawn dumplings. These were moreish as usual, and again I marvelled at the dumpling casing. How do they get it so light and perfectly cooked? Stodgy dumplings are the worst. Also, this way you can eat more of them.

Deep fried pork dumplings – again the best part of these was the perfectly cooked, crispy shell and of course the delicious minced pork filling.

Total bill came to only about £10! Tim Ho Wan was started by the former dim sum chef at Lung King Heen (a three-star Michelin restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel) who opened his own restaurant to offer people high-quality dim sum at affordable prices. We were out of there by 10:30am and there was a huge crowd forming outside to put their names down for the next available table, with one tiny Asian woman manning the booth and handing out numbers. Sometimes it pays to be an early riser. If only we lived in Hong Kong – it might be the only thing that could make me leave the house before noon on a Sunday.


Tim Ho Wan
Shop 72, G/F, Olympian City 2, 18 Hoi Ting Road, Tai Kok Tsui
Olympian City Mall
Hong Kong (Mong Kok)
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Clooneys, Auckland

January 7, 2015

Clooney opened in 2006 and I’ve been there once before for a meal but this time was a present from the family. We were going all in on their 7 course tasting menu with matching wines.

The dining area is really one big space. But it’s expertly divided up with banquettes and 20 foot tall black fringe curtains. Combined with the very dark lighting and individual spots shining on each table it gives a sense of privacy to each one. It’s industrial, dark, private, and intimate. Think 90’s vampire flick.

It’s a pleasant place to settle in for the long haul, and the tasting menu is an extended experience. 3+ hours of amazing food and wine would follow.

Flakey crackers with a delicate lemon curd.

First starter. A sashimi/ceviche hybrid. Raw kingfish with chamomile sorbet, freeze dried gooseberry, and grape. Sweet, tart, refreshing and crunchy. Matched with a glass of champagne.

Not on the official menu, but definitely one of the highlights of the meal. Bread and butter. The catch being that the butter tasted like caramel. Combined with the salty sourdough it transformed into salted caramel in your mouth.

Another delicate seafood dish. Scampi with an intense green pea juice, and pork crackling.

An amazing duck dish. Perfectly pink all the way through served with a ball of morcilla (Spanish blood sausage), and crisped cabbage. Great combination.

Final meat course, lamb, eggplant, date, olive, farro.

Jen’s not a big lamb fan. So the happily swapped her main course out for this fish dish. Which I was delicious but I can’t remember anything else about.

Onto the cheese, a 30 month aged comte with black garlic sauce and a sweet bread. A different take on cheese and relish.

1st proper dessert. Green tomato ice cream, verjus foam, sorrel, lychee, and pollen. Interesting dish. Very intense tart tomato flavour.

Some more traditional flavours, lavender mousse, with violet petals, freeze dried strawberry, and a pomegranate honeycomb

And a final piece of salty ganache to put us over the edge.

The wine matching with each course was fantastic. Especially a sparkling orange muscat which we had with the second dessert. I wish I had a bottle right now!


Clooney
33 Sale Street
Freemans Bay
Auckland, NZ

Clooney on Urbanspoon

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Oceanz Seafood, Auckland

December 22, 2014

Living in the UK for the last 6 years has turned me off Fish & Chips, the style here is just… a bit stodgy? The batter is usually very thick. Sometimes to the point where it is like a dough casing. In New Zealand it’s very different. Closer to tempura, and the fish is generally fresher and we frequently use New Zealand Snapper which is probably the greatest eating fish out there. You can keep your cod, or whatever it is that’s being served as cod now since there aren’t any left anyway.

New Zealand Snapper, aka Silver Sea Bream.

Oceanz Seafood is actually a seafood retailer. But they’ve always had restaurants and dining options attached to their locations. At one point (1999) they even had an upmarket seafood restaurant in the Auckland viaduct that I worked at briefly as a waiter. Or maybe that was their rival wholesaler Seamart?

Anyway, for sentimental reasons I wanted to get Fish & Chips in NZ at least once, and these guys have been voted the best in the region for 2014 and their close to my mother’s place so we paid them a visit for some snapper, chips, potato fritters, and a pineapple fritter.

I couldn’t fault anything. Each piece was fried to perfection. Light and crispy. Absolutely grease free. There was even some cinnamon sugar on the pineapple fritter which I don’t remember places bothering with before I left. A classic example of New Zealand style fish and chips.


Oceanz Seafood Silverdale
Next to Plant Barn
17 Hibiscus Coast Highway
Silverdale
Rodney
Auckland 0932
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The Haberdashery, Stoke Newington

December 1, 2014

I’m not a vegetarian but sometimes I like to take a break from mainlining sausage patties like it’s my job. The vegetarian breakfast at The Haberdashery came highly recommended by a friend (also not a veggie). I love that they don’t push veggie sausage on you – which usually tastes like a rubberised tube steak. It’s a well-balanced portion of grilled halloumi, tomato, toast, a bit of spinach and a totally delicious round hash brown patty. We went to the Stoke Newington location which is just off Church Street, there is also one in Crouch End. The decor is charming – like your loopy grandma who can’t be bothered to tidy or throw away chipped dishes. On a Sunday at 12, two of us just walked right in and only waited a few minutes. Not bad for high-traffic brunch time. Next time I’ll try the French Toast with grilled cinnamon-y banana and maple syrup. Mmm. UPDATE: As of January 22nd, 2015, the Stoke Newington location of The Haberdashery is now open for supper Thursday, Friday and Saturdays.


The Haberdashery
170 Stoke Newington High Street
London N16 7JL
www.the-haberdashery.com

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Leong’s Legend, Chinatown

November 27, 2014

In winter, the craving for hot soup noodles is strong. It can drive you to do crazy things like make a pot of instant noodles at home and then try to flavour it with hot dogs. So it’s probably best to just let someone else take care of it for you. Leong’s Legend is a no-frills Taiwanese restaurant conveniently located on the edge of Chinatown/Soho. Don’t be put off by the odd sign telling you to knock – I guess they don’t like randoms poking their head in. You have to really want to come in. I was advised to order the Spicy Beef Noodles and seriously had food flashbacks for an entire week. Man, I enjoyed the hell out of that bowl. The broth was rich, spicy and life-affirming. The beef was soft and slightly fatty – and the noodles were springy and flat, my favourite kind. I went back the following weekend and had the exact same thing. Obsessed.

If you don’t like spice, their other noodle soup dishes look just as satisfying. This is the chicken one – like mama’s chicken noodle soup if you were in Taiwan.

And the ultimate in comfort food – Xiao Long Bao – Shanghai soupy dumplings. This is the very essence of comfort food. How the hell do they make these? Soupy broth surrounds pork inside a dumpling. It must be some kind of solid gelatin before it’s cooked. It’s a hazy mystery.


Leong's Legend
4 Macclesfield Street
Chinatown
London W1

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Shu Castle, Sichuan in South London

November 17, 2014

For those on a restrictive low-carb diet, dining out is your enemy. Feasting on an entire chicken carcass is best done in private. But one night we found ourselves loose in South London. Where’s the nearest Nando’s? But then we remembered Shu Castle, a Sichuan Restaurant on Old Kent Road, a street that can only be described as “Derelicte“. The restaurant itself is pretty slick and modern considering its environs – but when we walked in it was literally empty. Despite the fact that I could hear a pin drop during the meal, I’m glad we pressed on as the food was absolutely delicious, the flavours in every dish addictive and satisfying. Even sans rice (cue scary organ music).

Bursting with flavour, the Szechuan Sea Bass is dry-braised with dried chilli, parsley, and peppercorns in an oily sauce – now this would have been even more amazing on some rice. But I wasn’t going there despite the constant burning sensation in my mouth. Impressive dish though.

Szechuan style green beans are the absolute best. Stir-fried with mince pork, oil and chilli, it’s one of my favourite ways to imbibe some greens. I could happily just eat this for dinner every night, it’s THAT good. This was even more popular than the sea bass showpiece dish.

The Szechuan Sautéed Diced Chicken with chilli, scallions and peppercorns is served cold and was deliciously oily and rich. Again, some steamed rice would not have gone amiss.

The Sautéed Vermicelli with spicy minced pork was tasty but nothing spectacular. For once the noodles weren’t the main draw – the vegetable dishes somehow had even more flavour.

Spinach with ginger and vinegar is a cold dish that I was worried would be unsatisfying when we ordered it. I was proved wrong when it turned out to be one of the best dishes. How does one infuse that much flavour into a bunch of spinach?! Sichuan cuisine manages to do some amazing things with green vegetables, just what you need to balance out all of those spicy chilli flavours. I’d love to go back and try the Dan Dan noodles, Sautéed King Crab with Szechuan pepper and the sticky rice balls with sesame in sweet soup (this sounds weird but trust me, it’s addictive if you’re a fan of glutinous desserts). If I wasn’t too lazy to travel to South London and we didn’t have the excellent Yipin Restaurant around the corner, I’d be back and floating facedown in that sesame soup before sundown.


Shu Castle
194 Old Kent Road
London SE1 5TY

Shu Castle on Urbanspoon

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Porkys BBQ in Camden

November 15, 2014

The only reason we generally go up to Camden is to use one of the private Karaoke rooms at Yum Cha Silk & Spice. But Jen had bought us some tickets to a gig in the Round House so we thought we may as well get dinner somewhere around there and decided on Porkys. Which just won Timeout’s best local restaurant in Camden. Decided by popular vote.

The first think you notice when you walk in is the intense smell of BBQ sauce. The whole place is smoky and sweet. You’ll know whether you like this or not.

We ordered the Memphis meaty ribs and tips (you can just see the tips poking out from under the pork ribs), creamed spinach, mac ‘n cheese, and pitt beans. Which was enough for both of us to feel slightly uncomfortably stuffed. All that for only £21.25. Which is a fair price for a delicious meal.

From reading some of the other reviews of Porkys I was half expecting it to be some cynical attempt to jump on the rib bandwagon. But it’s really not. The meat is well smoked and delicious. The sides were all good examples. The pitt beans were possibly a bit boring. Perhaps they could have been baked as well? But the spinach and mac ‘n cheese went perfectly with the pork and the ribs tips give a bit of textual contrast. A bit of gristle to gnaw on if you will.

Creamed spinach.

Mac ‘n cheese.

Pitt beans.

I’m not sure if I would cross London every week to visit Porkys (not that I have to because they have a Shoreditch location as well) but I could happily hit this once a month. It’s good food, done well, for a very reasonable price.


PORKYS BBQ
18 chalk farm road
camden
nw1 8ag

Porky's on Urbanspoon

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The Pig & Butcher, Islington

November 11, 2014

Does London need so many gastropubs? I want to answer a weary “no” but who am I to judge? Never a huge fan of the traditional English pub roasts, I’ve been disappointed too many times, even when dining at acclaimed establishments like this one, The Pig & Butcher in Islington. I don’t know, maybe I just don’t like roasted lumps of potato?

There were four of us and we all ordered the Roasted crown of Special Reserve chicken for 2 to share (£16.95), all served with a Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, creamed leeks and vegetables. Everything was so bland. The chicken had no flavouring to speak of, the vegetables and potatoes badly needed salt and the gravy was like brown water. I always love a Yorkshire pudding but I also desperately wanted some gravy with some flavour and substance to pour over it.

The creamed leeks side dish that came with it was the tastiest thing by far – served piping hot.

Dessert was a warm, soft chocolate cookie over some ice cream and could not be faulted. It’s obvious that the Pig & Butcher takes care in their food and it’s a really nice atmosphere, casual with comfortable booths and friendly staff – we had a great time hanging out in our booth for a few hours. Neither of us enjoyed the actual roast at all though. Who knows, maybe we ordered the wrong thing? The only pub roast I’ve really enjoyed recently was the one I had at The Snooty Fox, also in Islington. Ah, well. More money for the dumpling fund.


The Pig & Butcher
80 Liverpool Rd
Islington
London N1 0QD
www.thepigandbutcher.co.uk

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