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Affordable Dining

We have neglected this space for too long! One of our best friends asked us why we have not been updating the blog, and I replied to say that it was hard to beat the number of views we got for our last gastrographic post! Since then, we have had crossed some major milestones. For one, I (Gloria) moved to London last year and we also got married in January this year! In the last year we have been trying out new places to eat in London and will try to post more as we go along. For a (new) start, here’s a little gem of a place that our friend, Bel, brought us to.

Xi’an Impressions
117 Benwell Rd, London N7 7BW
+44 020 3441 0191
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday 11.30 am – 10.00 pm

Xi’an Impressions is a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant close to Highbury & Islington train station, directly across the road from the Emirates Stadium, which specialises in traditional Chinese street style cooking. It looks a little dodgy from the outside and you wouldn’t expect any difficulty getting a seat. We were so wrong! We have visited twice, and everything we ordered did not disappoint. I recommend going early because some of the most popular dishes get sold out really quickly. The hand pulled noodles, cold noodles, and Chinese burgers are the restaurant’s top selling dishes. Our two favourite dishes have got to be their Ginger Chicken and Xinjiang stir-fried chicken dish.

Boneless Chicken in Ginger SauceFullSizeRender-5

Please let us know what you think if you do ever have a chance to visit this place. See you all soon!

Thailand is a wonderful place. The people are mostly friendly, the food absolutely gorgeous and the country’s signature Iced Tea is one heckuva thirst quencher. We popped into Bangkok for a city trip from Singapore with not much of a plan and just a vague idea of what we wanted to accomplish. Glen wanted Thai food (principally mango glutinous rice), I wanted the Tom Yum Goong and shopping, and collectively we were in it for the foot massages. The shopping was a disappointment, but the foot massages and the food more than made up for it.

Most meals consisted of the same principal dishes – Tom Yum Goong (spicy and sour seafood soup), green curry and basil leaf minced meat. As and when they were available, we augmented them with egg omelette, papaya salad and fish cakes. In signature Thai fashion, most dishes start sweet and end with a spicy and savoury kick – a combination which is the darling of fusion cuisine the world over.  The food was all excellent, but Glen and I disagreed about which restaurant we liked the most. I liked the Tom Yum Goong at Ban Khun Mae, a thinner soup with a spicier end note, but the best Thai I’ve had so far still has to be Yhingthai Palace at Purvis Street in Singapore. Glen liked the offerings at Lemongrass, a thirty year old stalwart just off Sukhumvit Road which served up a meatier and less spicy seafood broth. Lemongrass also does a wicked egg omelette, slightly crispy on the outside with a generous packet of pork belly tucked within like a porcine love letter.

Lemongrass Restaurant
Sukhumvit Rd, Khlong Toei
Bangkok 10110, Thailand
+66 2 258 8637
11:00 am – 2:00 pm, 6:00–11:30 pm

A meatier Tom Yum Goong – chockful of herbs and gritty prawn stock
Lemongrass_Tom Yum Goong

Egg omelette and pork bellyLemongrass_Fried Egg and Pork Omelette

I suppose you can’t go wrong with a bowl of Thai green curryLemongrass_Thai Green Curry

Basil leaves fried with minced meat – as classic as it getsLemongrass_Basil Fried Minced Pork

Thai fish cakesLemon Grass_Fish Cake

Baan Khun Mae
458/6-9 Siam Square Soi 8, Rama 1 Road,
Patumwan District, Bangkok 10330
Tel. (662)250-1952-3, (662)658-4112-3

Banana leaf fried chicken slicesBan Khun Mae_Banana Leaf ChickenTom Yum, again. Can’t get enough of that sweet and spicy elixir.Ban Khun Mae_Tom Yum GoongPapaya Salad: Som TumBan Khun Mae_Glass noodle saladGreen CurryBan Khun Mae_Green Curry

T&K Seafood Restaurant
49-51 Soi Phadung Dao
Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok Chinatown is special sort of place, with restaurants and shops open till late. We wouldn’t recommend T&K Restaurant solely on the food, but we found sitting around a floppy aluminium table along the side of the road a rather enjoyable experience. Chinatown’s well worth a walk around, if only just to peer into the sundry shops and browse the collection of weird, wonderful, and oft-unrecognisable things packed into ubiquitous plastic bottles sealed with red caps.

T&K restaurant, with green chairs, opposite the street from their rabid competitors, Lek & RutBangkok Yaowaraj_T&K Seafood Sit by the road and enjoy the hustle and bustle of Chinatown at nightBangkok Yaowaraj_T&K Seafood Can’t say the food blew us awayBangkok Yaowaraj_T&K Seafood Fried Glass Noodles with Basil and CrabBangkok Yaowaraj_T&K Seafood

Greyhound Cafe
Emporium Mall

For the faint-hearted and spice-intolerant, one can always retreat into the air-conditioned safety of central Bangkok’s many malls. The Greyhound chain is widely credited to be a pioneer of fusion cuisine, and serves up generally acceptable food. The Phad Thai was decent, but somehow lacked some of the punch and authenticity from more traditional outlets.

Greyhound Cafe_Phad ThaiThai Iced Tea slushie.Greyhound_Thai Iced Tea

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.

Dalston Yard_Street Feast_BandW Dalston Yard_Street Feast_BandW

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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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.

Hup Lee Cafeteria
#01-35
Arcade Shopping Centre
Raffles Place 

Sliced fish soup is the food of corporate champions in Singapore: It is tasty, high in nutrients, and easy to take away on a busy desk-bound day. The sliced fish soup stall at the back of the Arcade Shopping Centre is popular with the white-collar crowd working around Raffles Place. The fish is prepared just before they open shop at 10:30am and turnover is incredibly fast, so there is hardly any time for it to sit around and grow soggy.

I visited early on a Monday morning to catch the food at its freshest. The soup was extremely good, fortified with chunks of salted vegetables and a slice of tomato for added tartness.

The fried fish slices ($4.50 for a basic bowl) simply stole the show. Whereas other hawkers may use the batter to cover up the mediocrity of their fish or to act as a bulking agent, the meat here was firm and fresh and the flour well-seasoned and surprisingly crunchy. We’ve travelled far and wide for good fish soup, and Arcade’s is heads and shoulders above what we’ve had before.

The notion that special food can only be found in out-of-the-way places is misguided and is wont for changing. Food in the CBD tends to be overlooked because of the location’s sheer prosaicness, but if one cares to look, there are dozens of hawker stalls tucked into the numerous food centres in town that are so deserving of being catalogued and re-discovered.

Islington Branch (available for breakfast, lunch, dinner too)
287 Upper Street
London N1 2TZ
http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/

Beautiful beautiful salads! 

It is really a wonder why we’ve not blogged about Ottolenghi before. We’ve been going to their Islington branch for our indulgent salad box treats for the longest time. Ottolenghi is a wildly popular chain of delis in London owned by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. This Israeli-Palestinian cooking duo have brought their Middle-Eastern culinary heritage to bear on the London food scene for several years now, serving up food so good they’ve made seasoned (and jaded) food reviewers write uncharacteristically gushy things about them.

Cheesecakes with a chocolate and macadamia nuts, one of our favourites

Don’t just take it from us. Make a trip down to one of Ottolenghi’s four branches (Notting Hill, Kensington, Islington and Belgravia) and see for yourself. The window displays are culinary works of art, with chocolate financiers, meringue tarts and cheesecakes arranged in beautiful battalions ready to wage bloody(-delicious) war on your taste buds.

Enticing salad displays (chillied brocollis in the foreground)

We nearly forgot to mention the salads, the best green and vegetable-looking things you’ll ever put into your mouth. As Ottolenghi’s website puts it, “Our favourite ingredients are of this ‘noisy’ type: lemon, pomegranate, garlic, chilli.” Be prepared for a veritable explosion of flavour on first bite.

Cous-cous, Ottolenghi style

The selection varies from season to season, but we’ve found that the rice-based salads, anything with squash and sweet potatoes in it, and the grilled aubergines with yoghurt dressing have been consistently good. Cous-cous has never featured highly on our carbohydrates-list, but those we had that day were deliciously blended with lemon and coriander. Some of our friends swear by the grilled brocolli with chilli, so that’s worth trying as well.

Angus Beef Fillet, lightly seared, with a mustard yoghurt dip.

Corn Fed Chicken – quite good, but beef is better

If you’re feeling nippy, get the angus beef fillet, lightly seared on the outside, and complemented perfectly with a light mustard-yoghurt dip. Two slices a person is more than plenty. It is sold by weight, so that will be about £3.50 each. Make it a three-course by choosing from Ottolenghi’s extensive selection of desserts. We love their cheesecakes and their signature passionfruit meringue tarts.

The last two times we were there, we took away lunch and went to the bench at St. Mary’s Church Garden. The weather was perfect and it turned out to be an unplanned but romantic picnic. 

(Pssst, takeaways are also alot cheaper than eating in  (£9.50/regular, £15.50/large). The large salad box is more than enough for two!)

Iceland is a beautiful country, and we’d like to recommend anybody vacationing in Europe to make a detour here.

As with most tourists, we based ourselves in Reykjavik and made small day tours to nearby attractions by car. This entry will read a little bit like a food trail – we’ll focus on how to go about feeding yourselves without blowing too big a hole in your wallet .

There were sheep everywhere

Iceland is blessed with some of the best meat and fish produce in the world. The waters that surround this raw and beautiful island are rich in fish, and the interior of the country is essentially one big sheep farm. There were sheep everywhere we went. Reykjavik central is populated by a fair number of fine-dining restaurants where you can sample some of this wonderful local fare. Tripadvisor and the local tourist guidebook will have a catalogue of all the well-known names.

Seafood Grill
Skolavordustigur 14,
Reykjavik 101, Iceland
http://www.sjavargrillid.is/en/Welcome

Fish Company
Vesturgotu 2a
Grófartorg,
Reykjavik, Iceland
http://www.fiskfelagid.is/

Lobster and Monkfish at the Seafood Grill

We can tell you a little bit about the Seafood Grill and the Fish Company. Both restaurants are staffed with friendly waitresses who will mother you into blissful submission with warm bread, local skyr butter (Yum.) and tap water so fresh it puts Evian and San Pellegrino to crying, burbling shame. Food-wise, Icelandic fine-dining really tries its best, but our impression is that their methods are a little dated. All the dishes we ordered were smothered in one sort of seafood foam or the other. We also took issue with the Seafood Grill deep-frying one of their lobster medallions in a hard, salty batter. Mother Lim also found the salted cod to be way too salty. We thought it was a matter of personal intolerance at first, but afterwards even we were forced to concede that she was right. There was enough salt in the fish to preserve it for milennia. This was a pity. The Seafood Grill could have gotten more out of its ingredients by doing less.

Lamb at the Fish Company

The Fish Company was better. The lamb was served a smokey jus and complemented with a lovely beetroot ketchup. We thought the sweet-and-smokey mix quite pleasant, although Father Lim did grumble about a lack of mint jelly and tabasco sauce. Clearly he preferred his traditional lamb and mint pairing more. Su-Ching liked her plaice and scallops main a lot, and we had no complaints there.

Difficult to eat with gloves on

We recommend having one of your meals at one of Reykjavik’s fine-dining establishments, just to see what the dining scene is like. Starters are normally start from 1500 ISK (~15 SGD) and main courses are about 5000 ISK (~50 SGD). However, not all your meals in the country need to be fancy-schmansy lobster gobbling affairs. Fast food in Iceland is equally celebrated.

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
Tryggvagotu 1,
Reykjavik 101, Iceland

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, roughly translated: Best Hot Dogs in Town!

Your first pit-stop in Iceland should be Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur along Tryggvagotu, Iceland’s world-famous hot dog stand. This humble purveyor of lamb hot dogs has the accolade of serving Bill Clinton when he was touring Iceland on behalf of UNICEF in 2004. Have your hot dog (250 ISK) with crispy fried onions, ketchup and a cup of coke. There aren’t many better ways to warm your stomach on a windy Reykjavik evening.

The Sea Baron
Geirsgata 8,
101 Reykjavik, Iceland

The interior of an archetypal seafood shack

Further down the road from the hotdog stand is Reykjavik’s Old Harbour, the home of yet another world-famous restaurant. Some 3-star Michelin restaurants may admittedly serve more complex lobster bisques, but the Sea Baron’s lobster soup (1250 ISK) offering stands out for its simplicity, honesty and generosity. The man behind the soup is a good-natured octogenarian ex-seaman. He may be found most days perched behind the counter of his restaurant. The broth is thin but full of that splendid, distinctive lobster flavour. Each soup cup also comes filled with substantial chunks of lobster meat.

Looking at this makes me hungryMonkfish Skewer (2200 ISK)The Salmon (2000 ISK) was fresh, but we liked the monkfish more

Also consider getting the monkfish skewers. Fresh monkfish has the same bouncy texture as lobster but goes for a third of the price. The monkfish at the Sea Baron is the freshest we’ve had. Ever. We honestly don’t think a stay in Reykjavik would be complete without a visit to this far-flung outpost.

The Burger Joint
Geirsgata 1  
101 Reykjavik, Iceland

If the lobster soup and skewers have not quite filled you up, the Burger Joint is your place of final resort. For 1250 ISK per burger value meal it is not the cheapest fast food around. But they do give you free refills on your coke, which is brilliant. The burger itself is very close to the soft-bunned American variant (think Shake Shack). The patty is moist and finely minced, although we do prefer our mince slightly coarser.

Noodle Station
Skolavordustigur 21a, 
Reykjavik, Iceland

If you tire of Scandinavian cooking altogether, the Noodle Station along Skolavordustigur represents great taste and value for money. It is located along the second busiest thoroughfare in Reykjavik and shouldn’t be too difficult to find. A bowl of ‘Thai-style’ kway teow noodles is 1000 ISK (SGD 10) for the chicken option, and 1200 ISK (SGD 12) for the stewed beef.

A saviour comes along to redeem our home-weary palate

The soup is a brown, sweet, thick broth. The beef must have been either topside or shin and the texture and taste compares really well with what one can get closer to home. Have it with a generous topping of ground peanuts, bean sprouts and chilli powder as well!

Right. So that concludes our brief guide to eating in Reykjavik. If we manage to save you a few dollars on your prospective trips to Iceland, then this guide has done its job. A word of advice though – whale meat has the texture of beef but tastes like fish. Eat at your own peril!

Other restaurants worth eating in Reykjavik (unreviewed): Kitchen Eldhus, for Nepalese and Indian food – for simple, not-too-expensive Indian cuisine along the Laugavegur shopping street. 

301 Old Street  
London EC1V 9LA
Tel: 020 7729 8662

42-43 Dean Street 
London W1D 4PZ
Tel: 020 7317 9118

Cay Tre received a makeover since we visited 3 months ago. Baby pink wallpaper now adorns the walls of this Vietnamese stalwart along Old Street, and the new menu looks less grubby than it did before. Service is smiley and friendly (if a bit frenetic), marshalled by a man who could have been a triad-bruiser in his past life, dressed for the part in his dockworker’s cap and orange tweed jacket. All very atmospheric, in our opinion.

Apart from the usual appetizer-main-dessert offerings, the restaurant also has a separate pho menu. £9 gets you a basic bowl of pho with sliced beef or chicken, with additions of sliced beef, fatty flank, tendon or meatball at 50p each. If you’d like a little variation in dining options, Cay Tre is a good place for pho in London.

20 James Street,
London W1U 1EH
Tel: 02074911178
1 minute walk from Bond Street tube station (Central Line, Jubilee Line)

We’re a little reluctant to divulge our tasty little secret close to the Selfridges departmental store along Oxford Street, but in the spirit of sharing, we shall. Atari-ya is a hole-in-the-wall sushi takeaway bar that serves quality sushi at affordable prices. To put things in perspective, 3 slices of otoro sashimi goes for £5, chu-toro at £3.80 and sake at £2.20. The place is perfect for a quick bite after a hard day’s shopping, or if you’re male, waiting on your girlfriend to finish up in the H&M changing room.

These were the rolls we had along with the sashimi – California Roll (£4.80), Prawn Tempura Roll (£4.90), Spider Roll (£4.90) and Rainbow Roll (£6.90).

102 Old Street
London EC1V 9AY
Tel: 020 7490 0200

If you’re in London and craving for some home cooked goodness, make a trip to Sedap, a little eating house situated close to Old Street station (Exit 6). It is owned by the Yeoh family who used to run the Princess Terrace Cafe at Copthorne Kings hotel in Singapore. Sedap serves up classic Peranakan Malaysian fare which includes Nasi Goreng, Blachan Chicken and Nonya Kuehs.

We paid Sedap a visit yesterday, and these were some of the dishes we enjoyed for lunch. Also consider trying the char kway teow and the SIngapore laksa. It’s about as authentic as you can get on this side of the world.

Seafood Kway Teow Soup

Malaysian Fried Rice

Blachan Chicken

31 Tan Quee Lan Street #01-01
Tel: 6334 4086

We were introduced to Xin Yuan Ji some time ago, and it is now our go-to place for sliced fish soup in Singapore. The restaurant itself is a full service tze-char restaurant, catering both to the one-hour luncher and the relaxed steamboater. It is particularly noted for its steamboat, fishhead curry and fish soup offerings.

The sliced fish soup with condensed milk ($5.80 – $7.00) is one of their specialities. You can have it with thick beehoon, porridge, or a separate serving of rice. The original purpose of adding milk was to mimic the appearance of fish-bone soup that has been boiled for hours, but it also has the effect of giving the soup a smoother texture and a pleasant sour-salty aftertaste. Fried fish slices are also available.

The sanlao fish hor fun ($7.00) comes hot out of the kitchen smelling of wokhei, the smokey, slight charred scent cherished by Cantonese chefs. There is a generous portion of fish and beansprouts, with plenty to share around.

We’ve not tried the rest of the dishes on the menu, but the shrimp prawn paste (belachan) chicken is a best seller and purportedly very good. Just don’t question how healthy it is.

5 Purvis Street #01-04
Tel: +65 6333 3121

Angel Hair Pasta with Sakura Ebi

French food anywhere hardly comes cheap. Considering the number of processes involved in making even some of its classic dishes, the price might even be justified. However, the two proprietor-chefs at Saveur Restaurant may have stumbled upon a happy solution to French dining’s price-quality dilemma. Following their move from a humble hawker stall along East Coast Road to their current premises at Purvis Street, Saveur has thrown down the gauntlet and (to quote Monty Python) now shake its fist in the general direction of fancier/pricier establishments like Garibaldi (No. 35) and Gunther’s (No. 36) down the road. Saveur is budget French dining at its most optimal.

Pan-fried foie gras with lentils and pickled onions, available in 35g and 70g lobes

Confit of Duck, Orange segments, Sautéed Shitake

The menu is simple to navigate, and not so fancy as to overwhelm. We strongly recommend the bestsellers: pan-fried foie gras with lentils and pickled onions ($7.50-$13), the angel hair pasta with sherry minced pork and sakura shrimp ($3.90), and confit of duck with orange segments and sautéed shittake ($8.80). We also had their premium offering of pan-fried monkfish ($23.90). The food was faultlessly prepared and tasty to boot, which really makes us wonder why it is that other restaurants still manage to murder their food at thrice the price!

Pan-Fried Monkfish

9 Penang Road
Park Mall #01-01
Tel: +65 6338 8611
http://kith.com.sg/
Kith café did well by opening its second outlet at Park Mall, a niche mall known more for its expensive furniture shops and lack of patrons. Yet, it’s precisely because of its slow-n’sleepy character that makes it suitable for an indie joint like Kith – far enough from the manic bustle of Orchard Road but still a convenient 2-minute walk from Dhoby Ghaut MRT station. Kith’s coffee came highly recommended by friends, so I dragged Hweifen along for a coffee and lunch.

We started with a macchiato and latte. Now, I’ve mentioned before that I’m not much of a coffee person, so I was happy to defer to the judgment of my better-informed counterpart. She proclaimed in her characteristic manner that the coffee was “mehh”, which I translated meant “good, but I’ve tasted better”. She also noted that the macchiato was smaller than she thought it would be. On my part, I was glad the waitress didn’t give me a dirty look when I asked for sugar with the latte.

Because we were also hungry, we had the tenderloin spaghetti ($19) and big breakfast ($15.50). The spaghetti itself tasted fine, tomato-tangy with the beef adding a smoky hint. However the treatment of the tenderloin was shameful. The meat is just too delicate for stir-frying. The lack of fat means it dries up quickly when subject to high heat – which was exactly what happened. A better choice would be to use sirloin or ribeye, do it on a griddle as a large chunk and then slice them medium rare into the spaghetti.

The big breakfast was customizable, but I picked the wrong combination by choosing the poached eggs and brioche toast. The brioche with added butter and jam was particularly nasty. Go for a sandwich-able combination – ciabatta/focaccia with eggs done scrambled/sunny-side-up. Nit-picking about the steak aside, Kith was decent for food. What made the place nice was how chill (what an indie word!) the place felt. The premises suffered from no lack of natural light and there was plenty of seating in the canopied alfresco area outside. Plus, the waiting staff was really polite (“certainly, sir, any drinks to complement your mains?”). No brusque, dour service here, sir. At Kith, we teach our people their proper Ps and Qs, mind you. That really made my day.

19 Tanglin Road
Orchard Parade Hotel
Tel: 6732 4438

There is a little bit of everything at Akashi. Its set lunches and dinners are priced affordably for the casual diner, but its sushi counter is also a place of wonder for the sashim-ly inclined. Akashi is one of the better known Japanese restaurants here in Singapore, but it deserves a mention anyway for its consistency, longevity and quality of food. Judging from the evening crowds, we aren’t the only ones who think so. Be sure to make reservations to avoid disappointment.

The menu is extensive, so we’ll only cover our favourites. The chawanmushi ($8) is some of the best we’ve had, silky smooth with a tangy citrus inflection. The black-hog tonkatsu (served in a set) was consistent on the half a dozen occasions we’ve had it, with a nice crispy batter and some marbling for added juiciness.

Sashimi – fresh, thick slices with plenty of bite

California Reverse Rolls, with a massive topping of ebiko for kicks

Akashi has a decent selection of California-styled rolls, with the house special reverse rolls priced at $10-$15 for 8 pieces.

The chirashidon set ($28) is generously portioned, with large chunks of salmon and tamago sliced into it. Also consider ending off your meal with some of the restaurant’s Japanese ice creams. The goma (black sesame) ice cream is particularly good.

Experience tells us that food normally tastes better if the proprietors are around to keep things ship-shape. At Akashi, it so happens that there are three brothers to do just that, with two of them taking personal charge of the the sashimi counter at their Tanglin flagship. You’ll find them slicing fish and swigging sake with their guests in the evenings. Our friend goofing around above introduced us to his Uncle Don, who in turn gave us advice on life and clarified the distinction between women and ladies (“you leave the woman at home, you bring the lady out”). Quite pithy for a man on to his 12th sake cup.

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