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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

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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

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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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Baiwei, Chinatown

November 10, 2014

Originally named Great Leap Forward after Chairman Mao’s communist initiative (er, awkward), Baiwei is a little Sichuan restaurant smack dab in the middle of Chinatown on Little Newport Street. We made it in just before their very early Saturday night closing time of 10:30pm. I was really surprised to find that the ambience recalled the visiting room of a prison. Harsh fluorescent lighting, extremely small tables and uncomfortable chairs – I almost expected someone to scream “No touching”. Then I ordered tea and was disappointed when I was given a mug with a floating green tea bag in it. The dan dan noodles with beef were exactly what we were craving – the rich sesame oil flavour and chewy noodles hit the spot but there was a real lack of spice. They were pretty average as far as dan dan noodles go, but noodles are a bit like pizza – even if they’re sub-par they can still be pretty more-ish. It came in a tiny bowl so is really only meant for one – or two if you’re not that hungry.

Spicy green beans are one of my favourite Chinese vegetable dishes and these were a great example of how to do them right. Stir-fried with pork mince, chilli and oil – I could have finished off the entire plate on my own, the flavours were perfect.

You can usually never go wrong with Chinese dumplings. If you buy a big bag of frozen ones in Chinatown and make them at home – even those are good enough to binge on with some vinegar and soy sauce. Well, these were just plain hideous. We couldn’t place what spice they used in the meat (I think it was beef, ugh). And all of the moisture had been sucked out of them. Seriously guys, WTF. We each had one dumpling and made the same face. Baiwei means “100 flavours”. This was not a good one.

Smashed cucumbers sounds a bit boring but this was delicious. Generously flavoured with vinegar, oil, garlic and coriander. Super refreshing in contrast to the more spicy flavours in Sichuan cooking. I’m really puzzled by the atmosphere in Baiwei, there were only three tables downstairs and it was sparsely decorated and felt pretty soul-less. There is an upstairs which we didn’t get a chance to look at – I’m hoping it’s night and day to the downstairs. The pricing was also a bit odd. The mug of tea at £3.50 was almost as expensive as the noodles at £4.90. I’m not sure I’d go back – maybe they just wanted to go home as we had arrived just before closing time and they decided to serve us pre-historic dumplings excavated from the Ming Dynasty era. It’s a hazy mystery.


Baiwei
8 Little Newport Street
London WC2H 7JJ

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Ippudo (consolation Kanada Ya ramen)

November 3, 2014

So, last Friday night my buddy Jamen and I made plans to finally try the ramen at Kanada Ya. But we were thwarted. When I arrived at 7pm they were closing their doors. When I asked why they were doing this at the start of dinner on a Friday evening I was simple told “we ran out of noodles”.

Gah!

But having read Kentaro’s review of Kanada Ya I knew that a big name in the ramen business had just opened up across the road the week before. A place called Ippudo, which is a Japanese ramen chain. They opened their first international restaurant, New York, in 2008. Jamen had been to the NY place and said it was pretty good. So we walked across the road and waited for a table.

And we waited for a long time. The host said the wait would be around 90 minutes and we waited for all of it. Which is a long time to wait for ramen. We did find a seat at the bar and enjoyed the pretty excellent pork buns. Though I did feel they could have ditched the slightly slimy lettuce and added some pickles or something instead.

We also had some tako wasabi. Raw octopus with a wasabi dressing. Not much to say about it since it mainly tasted of wasabi powder.

The bar area where we waited was quite nice. But the table we sat at just felt blah. It was a big shared table. Communal. But so wide across that it didn’t feel like we were part of a shared dining experience. And because of the glass walls there is a sense that you’re just sitting in a fish bowl.

The image above was the Hakata Tonpu-Yaki, which Jamen shared before our ramen arrived. This was a very dry example of okonomiyaki. I think it had just been over cooked.

Then the main event! We both ordered the Shiromaru Hakata Classic with a poached egg and some pickled bamboo shoots. It was very good ramen. The noodles were bouncy and the broth had a good deep flavour. I just don’t know if they were worth waiting 90 minutes for when there are plenty of ramen places that I enjoy more around Soho. Especially because nothing else about the experience was very exciting. Maybe try checking it out in a few months when the queues have died down.

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Stax Diner, Carnaby Street

October 24, 2014

It’s October. It’s cold, the leaves are rotting and it’s dark by 4pm. The urge is to scurry home after work to burrow under a mountain of throw pillows and watch reruns of Frasier with the curtains drawn, chortling to yourself as you empty another bag of Doritos. On one such night I made plans to go to American diner Stax Diner, the main menu draw being the Fried Chicken and Waffles. I almost lost my nerve when I was there but thank God I didn’t. This is one of dishes I’ve fantasised about but never actually tried. Would it live up to my expectations? Would my fried chicken dreams be dashed? Well, the fried chicken is deliciously seasoned and de-boned, served on top of a crispy waffle. The maple syrup comes in a little dish on the side. OMG. It was so satisfying. It fulfilled all of my southern fried chicken and waffle fantasies. The Deep South by way of Carnaby Street, London. I didn’t even have to wear my George Bush mask.

I haven’t seen Cajun popcorn shrimp on the menu since I dined at Red Lobster in the 1990s. These were surprisingly juicy and nicely battered and came with a mayonnaise-based dip. Served in what was charmingly described as a “bucket” so it’s perfect for pretending to feed at a fancy trough.

The classic “Cheeseburger in Paradise” comes with your choice of American, Mild or Mature Cheddar, Monterey Jack or Stilton for the truly evolved cheese-chomper. This was described as being even better than Patty & Bun‘s cheeseburger. And it looked like a normal-sized – one that you could actually fit in your mouth. I never understood the appeal of a towering burger that you couldn’t even bite into without an industrial-sized waterproof bib.

“The Chickadee” is a towering behemoth of buttermilk marinated fried chicken breast on a brioche bun with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayo. This was a bit hard to fit into your mouth with one bite but worth the effort. Stax Diner really know how to treat a fried chicken fiend.

Boardwalk Fries- hot and crispy and nicely seasoned. I’m really beginning to only like heavily seasoned, salted fries. I’m really growing as a person.

Most of their drinks are bourbon-based and I made the mistake of ordering one, thinking that maybe it could be something I could get into. Unfortunately I still don’t like bourbon. Served in jam jars obviously. I wish they had vodka-based cocktails but you can’t have everything. Much to my surprise, Stax Diner is the creation of Virginia-born Bea Vo – she of the famous Bea’s of Bloomsbury cake shop and tearoom. One of the few places in London where you can get fried chicken and waffles – instantly making it one of my favourite haunts.


Stax Diner
1st Floor
1.7 Kingly Court - Carnaby
London W1B 5PW

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Le Mercury

October 17, 2014

Treating myself when I was a student in London went two ways. Ordering two Domino’s pizzas and passing out to the flickering light of a DVD (there was no NetFlix, it was that long ago) or going to Le Mercury for a civilized dinner. The price of dinner for two at either establishment wasn’t actually that dissimilar back in the day, hence my enduring soft spot for Le Mercury eight years later. This candle-lit little bistro on Upper Street has been serving up affordable French fare for the past thirty years and has recently opened up a second location a few doors down called Le Mercury Deuxieme – but I still prefer the original location for the far superior ambience and old-fashioned charm. All of the starters, mains and desserts are a fixed price with an evolving daily specials menu. We started with the Ravioli de la Mer, filled with crayfish and lobster with a spinach and shellfish sauce – comfort food in the form of a demure starter.

I’ve found mussels to be a tricky thing to order in London. The broth tends to be overly salted or the mussels are overdone. Le Mercury gets it just right with their Moules Mariniere – a subtle white wine broth with a dash of cream, shallots, lemon and parsley – perfect for dipping the free bread basket in once the mussels are finished off. I usually just drink the remaining broth as a soup like the middle-class heathen that I am. I have to mention this complementary bread basket they present you with – it feels so old-fashioned and is served with a little dish of butter. Such a small touch but I love it. Takes me back to those halcyon days when restaurants weren’t so stingy.

FREE BREAD!

The Magret de Canard is roast breast of Barbary duck, garlic potato puree, Savoy caggage and red wine jus. The flavours all go really well together and every time we order it the duck is always perfectly cooked with a bit of crispy skin.

Like a predictable old lady, I pretty much always get the Filet de Saumon. Again it’s always perfectly cooked – I think salmon can taste a bit dodgy when ordered in restaurants – a real hit and miss fish if I ever saw one. It can veer toward the overly dry but this seared fillet of Scottish salmon is always perfectly tender and goes well with the broccoli spears and lobster sauce for a satisfying meal.

We always order extra side dishes of French Fries and vegetables because why not?

See what I mean? The place has a simply delightful vibe. All of the starters are £4.45, mains are £9.95 and dessert is £3.45. Go to Le Mercury if you’re looking for a charming French-style bistro with affordable food, wine and a really nice atmosphere. I’d definitely leave the warmth of my couch for this. Dominos’ House Special pizza be damned.


Le Mercury
140A Upper Street
Islington
London N1 1QY
www.lemercury.co.uk

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Dishoom: Covent Garden

October 16, 2014

My love for shared tapas-style plates comes from being accustomed to the ubiquitous spinning lazy susan at Chinese restaurants, usually heaving with a minimum of ten plates. I mean why just have one dish when you can sample twenty? Dishoom is inspired by the old-school style Bombay cafes open from morning to night. Their Bombay breakfast menu is a unique treat but take note it ends at 11:30am or 12 on the weekends so you’ll have to wake up early on Sat/Sun to make it down unless you’re lucky enough to live nearby. The casual all-day style menu makes it a tasty and affordable destination for after work drinks and snacks or a laid-back dinner. They do have bigger dishes that can technically be a “main dish” but the fun in this place is in sharing. The Fried Okra is surprisingly moreish. I think okra is a tough dish to make appealing and these were lightly seasoned and crispy. As usual, a deep fryer solves all problems.

I was told that the House Black Daal is one of their most popular dishes and it’s the perfect way to dress up the Roomali Roti. Such a simple dish but really satisfying – I could happily just have this for lunch or dinner. But obviously I needed more.

Another popular dish is the Chicken Ruby. Full of flavour but not overwhelmingly so, this curry is more of a full-sized portion. The tender pieces of chicken are in a rich ‘makhani’ sauce (a butter-based tomato cream sauce) and again is best eaten with some roti if you’re not in a rice mood.

The Dishoom Calamari is one of my favourite dishes there – tiny tender squid with a delectable crunch and a subtle drizzle of sweet sauce.

No visit to Dishoom can be complete with their cheese naan. The cheese is melted inside the naan and it comes out all piping hot and melty. *cue heavy breathing*. Don’t leave without trying their House Chai – this is chai tea the way it was meant to be served – with warm, comforting and satisfying spices.


Dishoom
12 Upper St. Martin's Lane
Covent Garden
London WC2H 9FB
www.dishoom.com

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