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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!

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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!)

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