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London

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!

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Street installation, just across from Cay Tre

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

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

Dry Rice Noodles with Spring Rolls and Barbecued Pork

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

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!)

17 Bruton Street (Mayfair Branch)
London W1J 6QB
020 7907 1888

8 Hanway Place (Tottenham Court Road Branch)
London W1T 1HD
020 7927 7000

Welcome to the wonderful world of Hakkasan

When people think of dim sum in London, the places that immediately pop to mind are the restaurants along Gerrard Street in Chinatown; Shanghai Blues at High Holborn with their Sunday half-price offer; one-star Yauatcha at Soho; and (horror) Ping Pong on your neighbourhood high street. Admittedly, some of those places are decent for a budget-conscious diner, but pssst, we’ve got something better for you now.

Hakkasan is better known as the more expensive and up-scale cousin of its dim-sum dinky little brother Yauatcha. That’s true for its ala carte and dinner offerings, but with a little strategy you can get away with minimal damage on its very very tasty dim sum (from 11am – 3.30pm) menu. Hakkasan has a more limited selection compared to Yauatcha, but whatever they have, they do better. Their venison puffs are a case in point.

We were going to write you a list of all our favourite stuff that you had to order, but were a little sad to find out they overhauled their menu in August. Some dishes like the excellent King Crab Noodle Roll and the Fried Mango and Prawn Salad Roll had been taken off the menu, much to our dismay.

Thankfully, other stalwarts survived the cull. Before we give you a pictorial guide to our must-eat dimsum at Hakkasan, here’s a tip: visit as a trio/trinity/threesome, or in multiples thereof. Most of the items are served as such, so it’s easier to share that way. It should add up to around £20 a person for conservative eaters, and £25 for gluttons. Also consider ordering from their selection of fine teas. The Classical Beauty brew is our favourite.

The Scallop Shumai and Har Gau are excellent. The full-sized scallop topping the shumai is particularly indulgentChar Siu Cheung Fun is smooth, fragrant and the meat is tender. Also try the Three Mushrooms Cheung Fun if you have the chance (and stomach space for it)Chilean Sea Bass Mooli Roll – a triumph. The balance of flavour in its soya sauce base is near perfect, complementing the succulent seabass chunk and the mu-er’s crunch’s exceedingly well Venison Puffs – Sweet, salty, fluffy, lovely.Corn Fed Chicken Soup – Gloria’s favourite for good reason. Dense and fragrant. The result of many, many hours of boiling and distilling stock. We salute the many chickens that died to make this soup.

Went back to Dinner by Heston for lunch, and tried their relatively affordable £38 set menu. We shan’t go too much into the details, except to say it is an attractive price-point for people on a fine-dining budget. The mains of the Blackfoot Pork Collar and the Cured Salmon were conventional taste-wise, but excellently prepared.

We’ll just leave you with the photographs for now. For a fuller review of the ala-carte, you can find our previous entry here.

Salamagundy – basically raw tomatoes and vegetables. The tomatoes were fine, but we found the purple radishes a little weird…Ragoo of Pig Ears – sticky, stewed, with a bit of a cartilaginous crunch. Not for everyoneMeat Fruit, not on the set menu, but made for a really pretty picture under the lunch-time light.On to the mains – cured salmon with samphire and peas – delicate and moist, a result of 2 hours of slow cooking, as opposed to the more traditional and expedient pan-searing/frying methodBlackfoot Pork Collar with Meat “Ketchup”. Tastes the same as the Blackfoot Porkchop on the ala carte, with a lovely salty-sour tang to itRoasted white peaches with yoghurt, meringue and peach sorbet – didn’t find it exceptional.Tipsy Cake – not on menu, but definitely worth ordering to share round the table anyway. Might be too sweet for some.Waiter and the Heston’s Awesome Liquid Nitrogen Hand-Crank Vanilla Ice Cream Machine of Doom (our name)U-Jin and his cone of ice-cream

127 Ledbury Road
Notting Hill,
London W11 2AQ
Tel: 020 7792 9090

The Ledbury made its name this year when it stormed to 14th place on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, behind Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner and The Fat Duck in the UK. Whilst we still believe the list is essentially a contest of who has the biggest budget to drink reviewers under the table with, the top 25, maybe 30 restaurants are a good guide to some of the best up-and-coming dining venues right now, if not of all time.

The restaurant has delivered outstanding quality and consistency on every occasion, with glowing reviews all around. Australian chef Brett Graham has brought his exquisite Sydney palate to the table, and we very much agree with the brightness and boldness of flavour in his dishes. Lobster with fennel and elderflower? Who would have thought, but yum. Venision of fallow deer with a massive dollop of bone marrow crowning each slice? Double yum.

Roast Scottish Scallops with Brassicas and Seaweed –  probably the best value starter on the menu that day. Juicy!

Hampshire Buffalo Milk Curd with Saint-Nectaire, Truffle Toast and a Broth of Grilled Onions

Heritage Tomatoes with Fresh Goat Cheese, Green Tomato Juice and Herbs

Notably, Brett does vegetables really well. The heritage tomatoes with fresh goats cheese and herbs is the restaurant’s signature, deceptively simple but good enough to trick the taste-buds of our tomato-phobe friend Freida momentarily. We also admired his ability to wrangle goats cheese into a form palatable to non-cheese connossieurs, re: mostly everybody in the world.

Mille Feuille with Mango, Vanilla and Kaffir Lime

Blueberry Cheese Tartlet

Passionfruit Souffle with Sauternes Ice Cream

For desserts, we sampled everything, and everything was good, but the standout for the night was the passionfruit souffle topped with sauternes ice cream – soft, delicate and very very airy. Brett is touted as a mean maker of souffles, and ours tasted superb. The preceding season’s raspberry souffle was ranked by the Fortnum and Mason’s guide as the third best dessert in Londontown (1. Marcus Wareing’s custard tart; 2. Dinner’s tipsy cake).

We like the Ledbury. Its location away from the bustle of central London was really welcome. We appreciated their flexibility in letting us have the largest table on the main dining floor. Ordinarily a group of our size would have had to pay significantly more to use the private room. They were also nice enough to prepare a chocolate tart dessert with the words “Congratulations” written on it to celebrate my graduation that evening. Service was warm, if a bit forgetful (they neglected to clear the crumbs on our table after the bread appetisers), but on the whole that didn’t detract from what was after all a wonderful meal.

30 Avery Row
Tel: 07740 952015

Everbean is an independently run cafe on Avery Row, a pleasant and cultured walking alley just off Bond Street (psst, the Paul Smith outlet store is here too). The cafe has an impressive selection of salads and sandwiches, which our friends tell us is quite splendid. We made a pit-stop last week and had a latte, which had a delicious nutty taste to it. It was a pity the milk was a bit thin, probably the result of inaccurate steaming. We’re inclined to give the coffee another chance, and will try to pop by again soon.

The cafe is blessed with high ceilings and tall glass windows

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