Archive

Food

32 Rivington Street,
London EC2A 3LX
020 7749 0478
http://www.chickenandsteak.co.uk/menus/66/

There is a certain type of person that works at Shoreditch – mostly the creative types, with talent and musicality spilling out of their ears, and in recent months, a preponderence of facial hair. Our waiter at Tramshed certainly fit the facial hair criterion, and our theory about the rest of him was that he was a massively talented musician/programmer/designer who was making ends meet by working a night shift at a cool Shoreditch restaurant. Tramshed is one of those cool places. It marries Mark Hix’s (of St. John Restaurant fame) culinary ethos with cutting-edge art. On the latter, one must query whether anything from Damien Hirst or a painting of the Cartoon’s Network’s Cow and Chicken would count as art.

The entire dining premise of Tramshed can be summed up by the artwork which is the centrepiece of industrial-chic converted warehouse the restaurant is in; in Damien Hirst’s inimitable style, a black rooster is perched on the back of a full-sized cow in a tank of blue preserving solution, serving as a macabre introduction to the things one can expect on the menu. Perhaps it is also a silent commentary of what the food and meat-processing industries represent – that in spite of the uneasy feeling we have in supporting an industry whose parlous treatment of animals is enough to make grown men cry, we choose nevertheless to ignore the elephant (or, in this case, cow and chicken) in the room because we simply can’t imagine life without meat. See also Banksy’s moving, squeaking expository in New York’s meatpacking district earlier this month.

Cow and Chicken, get it?Tramshed_Cow and Chicken

But I digress. We go to restaurants to be fed and make merry, and the more likely reason for the Damien Hirst installation is simply because it looked cool. Back to the food – the menu is simple enough to navigate. There are two chicken options, a Barn-Reared Indian Rock for two to three to share, or a spring chicken for one. The chicken is served vertically in a bowl which has an 8-inch stake in the middle that is thrusted through the bird’s cavity, legs facing upwards. The meat fell off the bone easily and the skin well crusted with brine. I was surprised at how big the chicken was – between the four of us there was plenty to go around.

The ribeye steak that we had was decent, but there was something missing from it. Based on what we had it wouldn’t be fair to compare it to Hawksmoor, as the steak here wasn’t grilled on the bone and I can only attest to the bone-in cuts at Hawksmoor. However Hawksmoor does use British Yorkshire Longhorn beef from the Ginger Pig butchery in London, which Heston Blumenthal has remarked is the best beef he’s had. I suspect even Tramshed’s bone-in cuts will find that quite difficult to beat.

Tramshed_FriendsThe meal ended with us celebrating Manav’s birthday. The idea initially was to get our bearded waiter to bring us a small chocolate cake with a candle in it and make it a surprise. Our poor man forgot to ask exactly whose birthday we were celebrating and fluffed it up. He thought it was Carmen’s birthday and completely missing Belinda’s glances in Manav’s direction as he spoke to her. What ensued was a charade of furtive pointing, uneasy glaring (from Belinda), and a futile attempt on his part to cover his mouth with a dessert menu when he discovered, belatedly, that the birthday boy was sitting at the table looking on in confused amusement. I thought it particularly funny that as he walked away stewing in embarrassment, he stopped and smacked himself on the forehead with his menu before slouching off to get the cake. 

Tramshed_Salted Caramel FondueThe birthday cake-slice that did come was a strong and dense dark chocolate cake, good but quite conventional. The salted caramel fondue with marshmallows and donuts was a lot more interesting. If one thinks about it, caramel and marshmallows are basically sugar served in different ways, but there’s something particularly decadent about coating one with the other and having them together.

Friends.
Tramshed_Manav

Shoreditch, Rivington Street, just outside Tramshed.Tramshed_Shoreditch exterior

The Cartmel Village Shop for Sticky Toffee Pudding

From the M6 junction 36 follow signs for Barrow-in-Furness (A590). On the big Meathop roundabout take the right exit and follow the brown signs for Cartmel Priory. Continue through the village to the Market Square.

The Carmel Village Shop does sticky toffee pudding. Extremely good sticky toffee pudding. And the best part of it is that it’s all take-awayable. There’s an entire chiller full of it. Aluminum foil packs for two, for four and for six, and they come in different shapes as well. I half considered packing one into a care package back to Singapore for Gloria; she likes the stuff at The Marmalade Pantry but Cartmel’s puds just blow them out of the water. Unfortunately because the stuff is freshly baked and packaged every day there wasn’t a chance it was going to survive a 7 day rough and tumble through the international mail network without spilling sweet sticky goodness all over other peoples’ mail.

Cartmel Shop
The story behind sticky toffee pudding was that it was pioneered by Lake District chefs between 20 to 30 years ago. As with any good thing, there are a number of hotel kitchens and shops like Cartmel who claim and market themselves to have done it first. History is fine but quibbling over what happened in the past is just missing the point; legacies are based on who does something best, not who does something first.

UK Lake District_Cartmel Shop_Sticky Toffee Pudding Upon entering the shop one is greeted by a shop floor filled with condiments, cordials, cheeses and wines. Sticky toffee pudding is the signature obviously, but there is an effort to make the shop more than just that. The cafe on the upstairs is well lit and clean. The food preparation area is not confined in a separate room and one has a sense of being a guest in someone’s house when eating there. The pudding is served fresh from the morning’s batch, spongey, porous and utterly saturated in a saccharine toffee sauce. The vanilla ice cream supplement is a must-have. Wash it all down with a pot of tea and all will feel right in the world again.

UK Lake District_Cartmel Shop 2 The shop floor is lined with shop shelves packed full of tasty things.UK Lake District_Cartmel Shop 1The pub right across the market squareCartmel

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

9 Duke Street
London W1U 3EG

It’s been busy times the last couple of weeks for us so this shall be a short photo-entry! I visited Zoilo with friends nearly a year back for some Argentinian food. Steak featured prominently in their selection of small plate choices, but the Provoleta (grilled “pulled-curd Provolone cheese“) topped with almonds and honey (first picture below) was the best dish that night.

Also, I have since decided that flank and skirt are my favourite cuts of beef. It’s cheap, flavoursome, and gorgeously tender when done medium rare – or rare even, if one is feeling French.

Provoleta, Almonds and HoneyZoilo_Provoleta Almonds and Honey Classic EmpanadaZoilo_Empanadas “Asado” Flank Steak – with Celeriac and Bone Marrow
Zoilo_Asada Flank Steak
Prawns “Al Ajo” with Pork BellyZoilo_Prawns Al Ajo with Pork Belly Skirt Steak and Parsnip Chips (i think)Zoilo_Skirt Steak OctopusZoilo_OctopusDessert TrioZoilo_Dessert Trio

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

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.

_DSC8840_DSC8842

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.

_DSC8848
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.

_DSC8851

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.

_DSC9229

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.

_DSC9234

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.

_DSC9239

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.

78,79 Boat Quay
Singapore
 049866
Tel: 6438-2482

Enotecca L’operetta is undoubted one of our favourite pizza places in Singapore. It is a  Vera Pizza Napoletana certified pizza restaurant where its pizzas are baked in a wood fired oven. Their service is excellent as well. The waiters are friendly, chatty and they never fail to refill our glasses.

Some tips:
1) Make reservations to sit outdoors – you’ll have a beautiful view of the Singapore river!
2) When ordering your pizzas, always top it up with their special Mozerella cheese, it makes a big difference to the pizza
3) Ask for recommendations.
4) Order to share

_DSC5792

_DSC5810_DSC5808_DSC8370_DSC5804_DSC8374

The Quayside,
60 Robertson Quay #01-11
https://www.facebook.com/SmittenCafe

Met up with Denise just before she jetted out of Singapore for coffee at Smitten. Had a latte specially pulled for me by the erstwhile barista (thanks!) and learnt what acidity means in the context of coffee (sourish aftertaste). It was a good time catching up.

Smitten is situated in the quiet Quayside complex next to the multicoloured Alkaff Bridge at Robertson Quay

The cafe occupies a small narrow space at the Quayside. The decor is simple, with bare concrete flooring, stripped ceiling and whitewashed brick walls. The cafe is jam-packed with knick-knacks commonly associated with the coffee business – assorted cups, french presses, filters, coffee bags for sale, and a pretty cool looking coffee roaster at the back. The aroma of freshly-brewed coffee pervades the premises, all the better to enjoy one’s cuppa in.

My coffee was in good hands.

The blend that day was on the sour end, with enough tartness to kick the mid-morning sleepiness out of me. Denise says it’s akin to what one will get at the London coffee houses. Kaffeine and Prufrock did have very similar-tasting brews. I enjoyed it, but generally I prefer my coffee on the nutty side.

Bratwurst Panini

Smitten also has a small selection of sandwiches to whet your appetite. The bratwurst panini could be smelled from a not-inconsiderable distance away and oozed cheese like lava. It’s rich so it’s best enjoyed when shared.

14-16 Queensway
London W2 3RX

The word on the Chinese community grapevine in London was that Mandarin Kitchen’s head chef had departed to join Pearl Liang last year. The split was an acrimonious one, the whispers add. In spite of the setback, this stalwart of Bayswater has soldiered on admirably, and remains the best place in London for lobster noodles. The lobster is served with the Hong Kong variety of youmian noodles – thin, crunchy, and slighty springy – and wok-fried in ginger and soy sauce to produce a blessedly fragrant gravy, well balanced with a hint of ginger-zest.

Garnished with a generous turf of spring onion to complete the taste

A visit to Mandarin Kitchen for lobster noodles has become something of a pilgrimage for the Chinese diaspora visiting, working and studying in London. Don’t be put off by the restaurant’s external appearance. The low ceiling, dim lighting and squeezy dining floor isn’t going to win it a Michelin-star anytime soon. Go for the lobster noodles though, and you shan’t be disappointed.

As with most Chinese restaurants, service is brisk and generally smiley. Speaking Cantonese gets you additional brownie points (and occasional freebies) with the staff.

8 Pollen Street
London W1S 1NQ
United Kingdom
Nearest Tube Station: Oxford Circus

While we were in London last month, we visited Pollen Street Social to celebrate our anniversary. Pollen Street Social is owned by Jason Atherton, a pupil of El Bulli’s Ferran Adria and an ex-Ramsay protege. Pollen Street Social has been making the rounds since opening its doors in 2011. It was awarded its first Michelin star in the 2012 Michelin Guide and was also named London’s best new fine dining restaurant in the Time Out Eating & Drinking Awards 2011. Outside of the UK, Jason has also had a busy year, opening up Pollen, Esquina Tapas Bar and Keong Saik Snacks in Singapore.

We visited for lunch, and as first impressions go, it made a pretty good one. Despite its proximity to bustling busy Regents Street, Pollen Street exudes an unhurried, laid-back vibe quite uncommon to central London. The restaurant shares this oasis of urban serenity with several independent, franchise-eschewing cafes.

Like its esoteric neighbours, Pollen Street Social’s philosophy to food is an inclusive one. As with any Michelin-starred outlet, strict standards are observed, but the restaurant stays close to its social ethos by striving to keeping prices sensible. Jason Atherton’s new cookbook: Gourmet Food for a Fiver is an extension of this philosophy, and is chock-full of recipes for people living on a shoestring budget.

The restaurant interior is relatively large and was awash with natural lunch-time light. There was space enough for two bars:  a reception-cum-cocktail bar up front and its signature dessert bar at the back of the main dining area and overlooking the kitchen. Service was warm and attentive, and we liked how staff had room to show off their personalities. The sommelier noticed us toting cameras and asked if we wanted to take some shots in the kitchen, which was really nice of her!

Truffled hen’s egg, London cured salmon, smoked salmon & watercress soup

The dining experience at Pollen Street Social was an enjoyable one, but the food was a mixed bag. We had the set lunch (£24/2 courses, £27/3 courses) and the main of lamb from the ala-carte. The meal started with a truffled hen’s egg and cured salmon in a watercress soup, topped off with a dollop of creme fraiche. It wasn’t an attractive plate of food. Salmon-pink and water-cress green have never been the best companions in terms of colour. The dish tasted like the way it looked – an unappetising salty-creamy-slimy mulch that didn’t go anywhere.

18-hour braised Angus feather blade, baked celeriac, marrow crumbs

The Angus feather-blade tasted woefully normal. The 18 hours of braising gave the meat a good texture but the flavour in the beef was simply lacking. The dish also looked like it had been hurriedly put together, consisting of a formless piece of celeriac, and a glop of fast-separating jus that pooled around unceremoniously on the plate, and garnished with a sad-looking unidentified green object.

Rack of salt marsh lamb, braised shoulder, creamed spiced aubergine, savoury & black olive reduction

Our visit wasn’t a complete gastronomic disaster. In dramatic contrast to our tragically off-target set lunch was the salt marsh lamb rack ala-carte (£27.50), served with a subtly balanced black olive reduction and a gorgeous cumin paste, a reminder of Beijing’s ubiquitous lamb skewers (chuanr) that we once nursed as our artery-choking guilty pleasure. The black olive and cumin blended with the natural fattiness of the lamb chop to deliver savoury redemption upon our taste-buds.

Selection of sorbets & ice-creams

We then adjourned to the dessert bar for our final course. We were attended to by a trio of dessert chefs, working with manifest purpose but with wits enough to welcome and have a short chat with us. Pre-desserts included a scoop of passionfruit and blackberry sorbets (pictured above), and nitrogen-frozen strawberry panna cotta with matcha powder.

Nitrogen Frozen Strawberry panna cotta with matcha powder.

The panna cotta was was an interesting and not unpleasant marriage of sweet-and-sour-and-bitter, with the frozen strawberry and matcha playing games on our taste buds. So far, so promising.

Autumn Kent apples slow cooked in London stout beer caramel, stout sabayon, vanilla ice cream

The set lunch’s slow-cooked Kent apple in beer stout packed a good boozy punch, and the vanilla ice cream and sugared pastry crisps prevented the beer from becoming altogether overwhelming. The ala-carte mango dessert presents mango done three ways, in different textures and in a variety of chemical states: solid, liquid and gas via aeration. We found the freeze-dried mango powder quite fun to eat. The trick is to coat it around the yoghurt and the pudding, let the powder stick to the roof of your mouth and then lick the fast-melting remnants off for added kick. It’s like having fun fair candyfloss, just cooler and mango-flavoured.

Asian mango pudding, mango sorbet aerated yoghurt, freeze dried mango

Fastest fingers first

Now, we have to say that the food at Pollen Street Social was not the best we’ve had. The ala-carte was fine but the set lunch was a let down. However, the restaurant deserves notable mention from us for its down-to-earth service and general lack of pretentiousness. We enjoyed our time there and we’re sure you would too. But if you’re going for lunch, please consider getting the ala-carte instead.

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. 

%d bloggers like this: