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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Dalston Yard
Hartwell Street
London E8 3DU
Dalston Junction Overground Station

Dalston Yard_Street Feast_EntranceIn any borough councillor’s mind, the combination of dilapidated warehouse, cargo containers, charcoal barbecues, 6 foot Argentinian grills and a surfeit of alcohol reads like a fireman’s worst nightmare. To your East London hipster or City/Canary Wharf office monkey (read: yours truly), however, all this just sounds like a good party. Given the United Kingdom’s obsession with Health and Safety and a somewhat overzealous application of the rules, it really isn’t a wonder that London’s casual night dining scene has taken so long to develop. But now that it has, this city is finally ready to have some nocturnal fun.

It was on a whim on a Friday afternoon that we decided to pay a visit to Dalston Yard. Work had ended early and there was energy yet in the tank to expend. You don’t really get to make those kinds of dining decisions in London very much – On most occasions a Friday night out needs to be planned as precisely a North Korean military parade, for fear of not being able to secure bookings at the right restaurant for the right time such-as-to-dovetail-into-the-follow-on-table-booking-at-the-right-wine-bar-or-club-and-so-on-and-so-forth. You-get-the-idea.

Dalston Yard_Street Feast_Sitting Area

Arriving at the Yard was easy. There are plenty of bus links that will drop you within a 5 minute walk of Hartwell Street, and the Overground (Dalston Junction) is just across the road. Dalston Yard itself is a disused and semi-demolished warehouse space that seems to have been earmarked for development. Across the road are shiny new brick-and-steel buildings that stand in stark contrast to the squat and dinghy shophouses nearby. Gentrification, it seems, has finally made its way to London E8.

The Rib Man, one of three or four vendors serving ribs that night. The man on the left offered me a chilli which he indicated that I should try. I popped the entire thing into my mouth for a half second only for him to wave frantically for me to take it out. About ten seconds later I found out why – apparently that little red devil is the hottest chilli known to man and my entire mouth stung for a good 30 minutes after.   Dalston Yard_Street Feast_The Rib Man

We navigate around a couple of alleys and enter the first of 3 spaces in the Yard. Vendors line the side and a happy, bubbling throng fill the centre. Based on a quick survey we quickly decide that pork ribs should be first on the menu, and as savvy Singaporeans do, we promptly choose the longest queue and join in.

The Smoke Stak – some very well groomed butchersDalston Yard_Street Feast_SmokeStak 2

The Smoke Stak, at the very back of the Yard, comes across as a fairly professional pig and cow killing operation. A massive, lorry-towed, industrial grill with a half-dozen pressure dials sputters away at the back of the stall, and a man with arms the size of crane pistons toils with his cleaver under the yellow light of an electric hand lamp.

Dalston Yard_Street Feast_SmokeStakAn affectionate woman with an affable Cockney accent takes our order. Yes luv, what can I do for you? One pork and one beef? That’s twelve pounds, luv. Thaaanks luv. The meats are smoked to perfection, with plenty of fat between the bone to keep it moist. The beef separates from the bone in pink, sinewy chunks, and the marbling on the pork is marvellous. Both are slathered in a bright, sweet barbecue sauce.

Thumbs up all around!Dalston Yard_Street Feast_Thumbs Up

We move on next to buttermilk deep fried chicken wings from the Rotary stand. A good choice, judging from the round of happy nodding and the emphatic thumbs ups from my companions. I’ve never had buttermilk as an ingredient outside of pancakes and waffles before, but the slight sourish aftertaste in the chicken wings certainly complemented the saltish primary flavours well.

Healthy Yummies – heckuva lot of butter so I’m not sure about the healthy part
Dalston Yard_Street Feast_Healthy Yummies

Finally, we complete our savoury course with plump hand-dived West Bay scallops served with celeriac puree, cured Old Spot bacon and sea shore vegetables (including samphire) from the Healthy Yummies van. The name was rather ironic, considering the massive dollop of butter our server had dumped into the pan with the scallops. Not that I was watching my weight anyway. In any case, they were the best thing we had that evening, with plenty of lemon zest to balance out the butter and bacon.

Dalston Yard_Street Feast_Healthy Yummies Scallops

Dalston Yard_Street Feast_Friends Dalston Yard_Street Feast_Healthy Yummies 2

The evening was complemented with a marbled cheesecake from the Sweet Tooth Factory, which I seem to have neglected taking a photo of, and on Carmen’s part a pint of a very boozy margarita, which I believe is a good thing, since the alcohol is really what you’re paying for, right? Some marshmallows magically appeared on a table next to a charcoal fire, which we took to roast, just like these happy campers pictured below.

Dalston Yard_Street Feast_Marshmallows Dalston Yard_Street Feast_Sweet Tooth Factory From Taiwan’s Shih Lin market to Vietnam’s legendary street barbecues to Singapore’s ubiquitous hawker centres, the night food market is a culinary tour-de-force. In London it will most certainly fill a gaping hole in Londoners’ dining options. Whereas cheap late night dining has ever been the purview of hard-working, late-cooking Chinese restaurants at Chinatown before, night markets like Street Feast could possibly encourage people to look further afield in search for an affordable night out. The next step then is convincing the other boroughs that yes, of course the risk of a catastrophic fire disaster and outbreak of norovirus can be kept to an acceptable minimum.

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I made a second trip to the Lake District in June, on a trip organised by a dear friend, Wai Lam, who is also a local of the area. There is much to be said about revisiting places. To borrow the words of Steve McCurry, “I’m a firm believer in going back to the same places multiple times… You’re there during different seasons and … in different kinds of light. You go back when you’re in a different frame of mind. … You get different kinds of pictures. I think a lot of it takes time.” I think it also serves as a comparator of a person’s skills and of the different influences he may have assimilated from the last time he shot at the location.

Lake District weather is notoriously temperamental. On most days the skies are overcast and dreary. However overcast skies do produce a very even quality of light that lend themselves to a very mellow sort of photograph.

Kinda sorta my dream homeUK Lake District_Manor and Lake

UK Lake District_HikeUK Lake District_Oak TreeUK Lake District_Farm

This was a fun photographic trip for me. For us the District wasn’t so much about seeing the lakes but about climbing the peaks. Wai Lam planned the trip around us scaling Helvellyn, the third highest peak in England, walking along the misleadingly named Striding Edge to get there. It was really more a SCRAMBLE than a STRIDE – which was at times terrifying (for the sheer drops on either side of the ledge we were walking on) and exhilarating.

Just lunching in a small shale wall next to the Red Tarn before the final climb up to Striding EdgeUK Lake District_Red Tarn 2Striding Edge from a distance. As sharp as a dragon’s tooth along the ridge.UK Lake District_Strider's Edge 2
Guides with tourists in tow. One of them was scaling with his dog, which was pretty amazing.UK Lake District_Helvellyn
UK Lake District_Red Tarn
Some times the best views aren’t seen from the top, but halfway up and looking back.UK Lake District_Helvellyn and Strider's EdgeDressed like we were going for war. This was at the top of Helvellyn. Ruddy windy that day. UK Lake District_Helvellyn PeakUK Lake District_Grass and MossUK Lake District_Lady and her DogUK Lake District_Windermere

I suspect we’ll be back again to the Lake District some time soon. Maybe make it a sort of yearly or bi-yearly pilgrimmage to the country from now on.

438 King’s Rd
London SW10 0LJ
Opening Hours: All days 12:00 – 10:30pm

Happy Diners_DSC8844

We went to Medlar Restaurant on my trip to London in February, on the back of some very strong recommendations by friends and family. Like any careful diner, I googled the restaurant just to be sure. Now, most of the time I use Jay Rayner of the Guardian as my touchstone for all things food related. This is not even to mention that I am insanely envious of what he does for a living, that I covet his job, and I aspire to write as well as he does. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had his tongue insured for its weight in platinum – the man has a palate as finely tuned as his wit is sharp.

Crab Raviolo, Samphire, Dry Shrimp, Bisque_DSC8831

Jay is normally a rather morose sort of person (watch this wonderful video of him introducing his new audiobook The Man Who Ate the World), but for Medlar he breaks with his usual dourness and has said some uncharacteristically bubbly things about the place.

The starter of crab raviolo, brown shrimps and samphire in bisque sauce was pure culinary brilliance. I think my brain went into a gustatory meltdown on first bite and I find myself at a loss to describe that wondrous glop of flavour that I vaguely remember sliding down my throat. A few words come to mind which I shall struggle to wrangle into a sentence: fishy; smokey; smooth; creamy; rich. Now, imagine a combination of those flavours and textures being conveyed to every corner and cavity of the inside of one’s mouth, and then picture yourself chewing happily on a nice fat Italian dumpling, with every bite releasing a gurgling gush of crab utterly saturated in that really agreeable seafood cream. That’s a happy thought, isn’t it?

Scallop Sashimi, Oyster Tempura, Ponzu Dressing_DSC8834

The other starter of scallop sashimi was a more zen-like affair, dipped in a ponzu dressing and topped with delicate oyster tempuras. It wasn’t so much explosions of rich seafood bliss as it was lullaby of soft supple sensations.

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The mains were classic French – generous servings of venison and cod complemented with plenty of carbo and greens, an approach that Joe Merce Nairne, part-owner of the restaurant, took with him from his days at Chez Bruce, another favourite eating place of ours (review to follow shortly!) All the meats were done to perfection, but here there was an indication that Medlar still has some way to go to match the innovation coming out from more bemedalled competitors like the Ledbury, which has become our gold standard to British fine-dining.

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Desserts were enjoyable. A soft passionfruit cheesecake with a pineapple slice on the side was a safe way to end, but which lacked the oomph to close the meal in as brilliant a fashion as it had started. But hey, I like my cheesecakes, so I was happy enough to snarf it all down. The passionfruit ice-cream topped with a blackberry compote and mini meringues was largely the same sort of thing.

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Medlar does not have a full degustation menu, which has allowed the kitchen to focus on churning out a rockingly consistent a la carte at an affordable price. The restaurant hasn’t gotten its Michelin star yet, but we suspect that if it follows the same sort of trajectory as Chez Bruce, that will just be a matter of time. The 3 course menu stays the same but the price changes depending on when you visit (from £26 for weekday lunches to £45 for dinners), so based on what we have had, this would easily be one of the most value-for-money set lunches in London at the moment.

77 Hampstead High Street
London NW3
Hampstead Tube Station, Northern Line

Took a gander down to Hampstead Heath at the start of a rather late spring. For tourists looking for some sight-seeing and who tire from shopping, Hampstead Heath is easily accessible by the Northern Line (exit at Hampstead), and is a pleasant 15 minute walk away from the station. Particularly worthwhile if the weather is pleasant that day.

After a long winter, the light coming through the trees in the Heath were particularly bewitching that day. Made me forget for a moment that I was living in one of the busiest cities on Earth  Hampstead Heath_Shadows Signs of Spring peeking out from amidst the branches Hampstead Heath_SpringGolders Hill Park, with plenty of parents with hyperactive children and strollers in tow. Golders Hill Park

I’ve heard plenty about the famous Hampstead Creperie (or La Crêperie de Hampstead for all you francophiles) from friends before, so this trip to Hampstead was pretty much a pretext for me and my housemate to go try it out for ourselves. The creperie was difficult to find. We had thought that because the creperie had a number assigned to it that we were looking for a visible brick-and-mortar shopfront along Hampstead High Street. On my part I take pride in my navigational skills and try not to ask for directions when I’m in tourist mode. Gloria, on the other hand, would attest to the view that I am one stubborn son of a gun, which in this particular case worked adversely against me. I must’ve walked past the shop at least three times before I realised, to my mortification, that what we were looking for all along was not a shop but a tiny, white, plastic-pre-fabricated booth situated in the afternoon shadow of a pub.

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The shop is manned (or womanned, if you will) by a pair of hustling-bustling French ladies. Service runs like clockwork amidst a latticework of crisscrossing arms, tupperware and batter. Orders are taken in a fashion that would have made my parade sergeant major proud. Manners were immaculate though, replete with “pleases” and “thank yous” as you would expect from the French. I have never been barked at by a service worker but walked away feeling so good about it before.

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The food, you ask? Brilliant. Nothing warms the cockles of my heart like a toasty crepe stuffed full of melted chocolate bits and banana slices. The batter is seared perfectly and leaves the heating plate nice and crispy. It is best to share the sweet crepes – portions are generous and one can only eat that much chocolate before feeling saturated.

No such problems with the savoury crepes though. The cheese, spinach, garlic and mushroom combination was a gorgeous mix of salty and tangy. All crepes are served in a specially designed paper card holder, which proved remarkably effective in keeping the mess to a minimal. The Hampstead Creperie is well worth making the trip for, and we can think of worse combinations than a nature walk and crepes to spend your day.

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23-25 Leather Lane
London EC1N 7TE
Opening Hours: Weekdays 8:00am – 6:00pm, Weekends 8:00am – 5:00pm
http://www.prufrockcoffee.com/about-us/

Prufrock_Leather Lane_Premises
Just doing the London coffee round, which wouldn’t be complete without a nod in the general direction of Prufrock Coffee at Leather Lane. These guys are the real deal in the London coffee scene – heck, they not only make coffee, they train the people that make coffee. Plus their dessert table looks so pretty.

We also understand they do coffee-making workshops on top of their barista-training services, which could be a wonderful way to spend the weekend. More information can be found here.

134 Kingsland Rd
London E2 8DY
Open Weekdays12:00–3:00 pm, 5:30–11:00 pm
Open Saturday 12:00 – 11:00pm and Sundays to 10:30pm

… and it’s good to be back. We apologise to our readers for such a long lay-off from gastrographic. Life has been busy for us, and it has only been quite recently that we finally regained a measure of our time to get back into writing for fun!

Shoreditch Town Hall – walking up towards Kingsland Road from Old Street
Old Street_Shoreditch Town Hall

The first entry of gastrographic was of this little gem of a cafe we found on our trip to Thailand a year and a half ago. It seems only apt that we kick start this rebirth with an entry on food from around the South East Asian region again. Having lived along the edges of East London for the past 3 years, Song Que Cafe along Kingsland Road has always been my go-to place for Vietnamese comfort food when the flat larder runs low and I can’t be arsed to cook in the evening. It is a wonder that we’ve never properly reviewed this place earlier.

Old Street installation, just across from Cay Tre

In terms of taste, Song Que has a special place in my heart for its fresh and ping-pong-ball bouncy Vietnamese summer rolls, crispy deep fried spring rolls and for having a bad-ass barbecued meat selection – smelling like it was smoked over a ghetto charcoal pit and charred to perfection. If one is at a loss as to what to order (the menu has over a hundred items in it), a summer roll starter and a dry rice noodle main topped with spring rolls and barbecued pork should give you a sampler of the wonderful things coming out of the Song Que kitchen. The pho is decent, but we prefer the soup and meatballs at fellow Shoreditch rival Cay Tre.

Vietnamese Summer Rolls – with prawns so good they go boing in your mouthWhatever you do, just stay away from the chicken chow mein. It’s not even a Vietnamese dish!

Dry Rice Noodles with Spring Rolls and Barbecued Pork

Food portions at Song Que are plentiful and prices are affordable. For that reason queues outside the restaurant can be long on Friday and weekend evenings as revellers spill over from the Hoxton drinking holes to grab a bite to eat. Service can be rushed and brusque (as with most Asian restaurants), so we don’t recommend lingering over your drinks once your plates are cleared. Some establishments are brilliant for that, but Song Que is more a “please eat our lovely food and then leave as soon as you can” kind of place.

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