Friday, 30 April 2010

Fernandez and Wells : Do They Sell the Best Egg Custard Tarts?

When we had our extended stay in Hong Kong a couple of years ago, I went a bit mad on trying to find the perfect egg custard tart. In Hong Kong I think I did. They were being sold by the Tai Cheong shop. 
A fantastic place in the Mid Levels, which was within easy walking distance of where we were living at the time. This small shop was made more famous by the then Governor Chris Pattern, who used to stop there on his way to work to buy a few for his mid morning snack.

I’ve tried a few places here in Chinatown, but they really are poor by comparison of their Hong Kong counterparts. But that is Chinatown all over really. Save that rant for another blog. I can feel it coming soon though.
Now, Fernandez and Wells, which have been trotting along for the last 3 years, delivering great food, and great coffee to the wonderful people of Soho.
I reckon, through reading a lot of blogs about the place. I have to be the only person who hasn’t eaten one of their sandwiches. No idea why I haven’t tried them, but so far I have been a bit shy on that front. Although I was tempted this morning by a Cumberland sausage roll, but the guy in front of me took the last one. Ho hum.
What I have to say though, is about their egg custard tarts, or to give them their Portuguese name pasteis de nata. These tarts were being baked in the 18th Century in Belem, Portugal.
I cannot actually remember eating any on our trip to Lisbon, but we must have. I mean it’s like going to France and not eating frogs’ legs. Oh yeah, done that. Shameful I know.
We did however, in our few days in Macao eat a shed load. Very good and tasty. Quite Portuguese in a Chinese sort of way.
After a few recent trips to Fernandez and Wells on Beak Street. I have come to the conclusion that I am now at peace in my egg custard tart adventure. These are really, really, really very good.
The pastry is of the puff pastry persuasion, but it’s the interior that has driven me to new highs of egg heaveness. The filling is soft, smooth and sweet. It’s a delight in the mouth. I think I can now die a happy man. But I will continue to look for one better, but that may never happen. It would be excellent if it did.
Their double espressos are strong and not bitter. They give me that needed pick me up when I need it. Especially after wandering around the “do-shop”. I really want to buy everything in that place. Such stylish and decadent gifts for the home. Makes me cry that I cannot afford everything. Actually some of it I don’t need, but I want it all anyhows.
I’ve also had a lovely and warming bowl of Catalan stew in the St Anne’s Court bar. It did not remind me of Catalonia but it was a very good bowl of pork stew. The meat was so tender it melted on my tongue. Yummy.
All in all Fernandez and Wells has it all. Great coffee, good food and a nice ambience. It really is made for Soho.
Long may it continue to serve us fantastic produce.

PS - I went into the St Anne's Court branch again at lunch time today. Finally had one of their rolls. A spiced chorizo and aged manchego one. Awesome. Enjoyed every last bit of it... Will be returning sooner rather than later for more.

Fernandez & Wells on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Rasa Sayang – My New Favourite Malay Joint

I think I have found my favourite Malay eatery now. Since we have been back, I think I have eaten at Rasa Sayang on at least 5 occasions. All with different groups of friends, who all have loved the place. I’m sure, I am due a free meal there now.
Even when it opened last year, Rasa Sayang was serving good food. Good Malay/Singaporean food. Which in this part of London was badly needed, as most China Town eateries only serve swill to the masses. But as Chinese food has been relegated to cheap take aways, not many people will pay a premium for good Chinese cooking. It has now become a cuisine that is cooked so badly it is a wonder that people still eat it. But that rant is for another blog.
Back to the Rasa Sayang. It reminds me of many a coffee shop in Malaysia or a simple eatery in a housing estate in Singapore. One to which our favourite and best food guide is more than happy to show us every good place to eat in his country.
There are the obligatory pictures on the wall to get you into the mood of being in that part of the world. Table and chairs are also fitting of being in Asia. They are plain and basic and do the job.
The menu is split into different sectors, having been in Colombia for what seemed like an eternity. I only ever look at the hot section. I come here for one thing and one thing only. Heat and spice in my food. It must be withdrawal symptoms or something. I want spice. I want heat. I get it here.
I even took Linas' Aunt and Uncle and cousins there recently. Apart form Alonso, everyone else had noodles. I am not a big fan of fried noodle dishes. It screams blandness to me and I get no enjoyment from eating them. But they all loved them. 
So far I’ve eaten the Nasi Lemak, Laksa, Satays (the peanut dipping sauce is to die for), Roti Canai, Ayam (Chicken) Curry and the Beef Randang. They have all been fantastic. Lot’s of spice to perk my lips and tongue up.

In the battle between the Nasi Lemaks of this small part of London. Over all, the one at the Rasa Sayang wins over the one at the C & R Café, but the chicken curry is slightly better at the latter. But everything else is better at the former. They still over boil the eggs, but less than anywhere else. They are getting there.
The service is good, people are friendly and they serve Tiger beer. What more could you ask from in life.
I think I am going back to the Rasa Sayang now to have their Fish Curry. See you there.  
Rasa Sayang on Urbanspoon

Monday, 26 April 2010

Misato – Chicken Katsu Curry

Misato was a place we first visited when we first moved to London over 10 years ago. This was a time when we were pretty broke and we were forced to eat at more economical places.
10 years later, we were back inside ordering what was probably the same meal we had the last time we ate there. We are slightly less broke, but for some reason at this moment we are re-visiting a lot of places we ate at back then. No idea why, but we are. I am pretty sure though we won’t be going back to a few places. Those are better left unmentioned.
Misato sells cheap, large portioned food to hungry people. Mainly students. The food is not particularly well cooked, but the place itself has a charm and a nice vibe. To eat there you must first understand what you are going to receive. This is not fine dining by anyone’s standards.

In places like these, Wagamama included I only seem to eat the Chicken Katsu Curry. This is deep fried breaded chicken breast, a mountain of rice, and a very mild but strong tasting and slightly addictive curry sauce. All this gets served with a small side salad.
We ate at two train stations when we were in Japan, and this is what I ate there both times. So to eat this is a gentle reminder of our time in Japan. Which we enjoyed to no end. Even in Japan the Katsu curry was a very cheap, fast food dish. It is what it is.
The best description I have heard of the katsu curry is that is like school food, and an unashamed excuse for a large volume of rice.

After struggling to finish the food at Misato, and I bet you don’t. Few people do. They will provide a tin foil container to take home for lunch the next day, as you will not be able to eat anymore that day.
So if you are in Chinatown, and do not want to spend a lot of money and are tired of the junk they sell in Chinatown, give Misato a try. Be warned, portion control is out the window.
Misato on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Pizza Pub

I have tried to write this blog for ages now. Even before we left for Colombia, I tried and failed. Words have always failed me, no idea why but they do. Even now I am kinda lost for words, but I am gonna plough on and get it done.
Why am I having so much problems writing about a great place to eat and. It’s weird.
I have lost count on the times I have eaten at The Regent. At least once a week, sometimes more for over 6 months, and that was before we left for Colombia. Since our return we’ve carried on from where we left it a year ago.
I remember passing it once many, many years ago when it was being refurbished from  an old mans pub into pizza heaven.
I love the pizzas that they do in the brick oven, which sits in full view of us customers. This gives their pizzas a crispy nicely baked under base. They are thin crust as well, for me this is essential for any place selling decent pizza.
The selection is wide and varied. I’ve only ever tried a few of them though, as I’m kinda picky when it comes to pizza. Their margheritas are as margheritas should be, lots of mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil. Nothing else. They are really good.

The other ones I’ve tried are the smoked pancetta and the anchovy pizza, which has a liberal scattering of red chilli’s. Sometimes very hot, sometimes not. I love all three of them, but the margherita is my choice 99 times out of a 100.
There is something wondrous about pizza. A simple combination of flour, yeast and water combined with a great toppings and a good oven makes heaven. The unfortunate thin is so many places cannot do it well. It’s not rocket science, but attention to detail is paramount.
The beer here is good also, lots of European beers that marry well with the pizzas. Pizza and Leffe is a match made in heaven. They do sell wine, but I’ve never really looked at what they sell. I think it’s mostly Italian. No idea really.
There is also a cool jukebox in the corner spilling out cool tunes all night, this and the buzzing crowd make it a great night out.
Also on the menu are some mixed starter platters, salads and puddings. But I’ve never tried them. I go for the pizzas and pizzas alone. Actually to think about it, I’ve never gone there just to drink a beer. For me The Regent is the Pizza Pub. It’s a place to go and eat pizza and drink beer together. Not separate. Together. I would never dream of going there and just having a pizza, and not drink anything. That would never happen; likewise I couldn’t go in and just drink a beer. The temptation to eat one of their pizzas would be too much. Much too much.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who thinks the same. I’ve never seen anyone just drinking a beer. Everyone go there for the pizza. In my view The Regent does the best pizza in London. But then again I haven’t tried pizza everywhere, but the Regent has it all.

Regent on Urbanspoon

Friday, 23 April 2010

Sunday Roast @ The Albion

Having lived within a 5 minute walk of the Albion for over 6 months, we ate and drank there on more than a few occasions, but somehow the Sunday lunch there never came to pass. Either because we forgot to book, or we just turned up on the off chance that they would let us in. They never did. It’s always fully booked on a Sunday.
Our last attempt to eat there was a few weeks ago, again on a whim as we were wandering around trying to decide where to eat. We ended up at The Bull. Read below for how a disappointing lunch that was.
So this time we made sure we booked. They seem to have 2 sittings, one at 12pm and the other at 2.30pm. Noon was way too early, as who knows how bad these hangovers are these days. Seems to be an age thing, the older I get the worse they are. So a 2.30 reservation was made.
We arrived a tad early, so we grabbed a couple of beers and wandered outside to take in a bit of sunshine. It’s amazing how many Americans there were sitting outside. I actually felt like I was a foreigner here. Most of them were talking a lot of shit, but kids these days the world over normally do. Am I getting old?
We wandered through to the rear garden, as it was a sunny day, the inside dinning room was empty and everyone was being seated outside. Glorious sunny day it was. The garden was packed with lots of groups of friends. Thankfully no screaming babies here. They seemed to be frowned upon these days, well by me they are.
The menu at the Albion is short and sweet. More or less about 6 starters, 7 mains and with about 6 puddings. All sounded great. I would have preferred to have the lamb, but it was for 3 or 4 people. Shamefully my wife cannot eat for 2 anymore.
So glad I am not a veggie, as the option of a baked potato with creamed spring mushrooms was a tad not appetising. But who cares, I’m not and cannot see it happening.
We shared some Dorset crab on toast, which had one side full of white meat and the other side brown meat. It was juicy and with a squeeze of lemon made it perfectly acidic. It’s amazing just how different the white and brown meats are on a crab. Gorgeous. Boy I’ve missed simple pleasures like this.

The mains, I had to have the Rare Roast Beef and Yorkie. Lina went for the Slow Roasted Pork Belly. All these come with the trimmings as they say. Sautéed spring greens, Chanterelle carrots and roast potatoes. Now I’m not mad, no matter what Lina says, but a roast has to contain at least three good sized roasties. Here we had four. Excellent. They were crispy as well with great texture and taste, how a roast tattie should be.
My roast beef was rare and juicy, the great gravy was a little over powering it, but apart from that it was fantastic. I think they gave me the biggest yorkie ever created, as it took up half the plate. Love it. The only thing missing was the horseradish. I should have asked for some but as we were in a far corner it was a little difficult to catch someone’s eye. Hey ho.

Lina’s pork belly came rolled and was really meltingly tender. The apple sauce was tart and married well with the fattiness of the pork belly. Good sized portion again.
Unfortunately with the sun beating down on us, we gave the puddings a miss, and opted for two espressos to wake us up a bit. Lunchtime drinking in the sun always makes me sleepy.
I have to say that the Sunday roast here is as good as it gets. A couple of minor flaws but nothing to worry about. It’s nigh on perfect. They used good ingredients and cooked more or less to perfection. I loved it. This is going to be a hard act to follow.
The only thing missing was a few friends to share it with. Next time.

Albion on Urbanspoon

Monday, 12 April 2010

Herbario – The Herb Garden

Herbario, we visited on a few occasions and one that every tourist goes to at least once on an extended stay in Medellin. All the new tourists (with their prepagos) just head to the naff eateries in and around Parque Lleras.
Herbario was a new concept when in opened in Medellin. You were given the choice of ordering a different starter, a main course and a dessert. To be able to do this a few years ago was unheard of. A novel concept had hit Medellin. What I really hated about this was that the waiters came over and explained the concept to you. So condescending I thought.
The norm up to this point was to have the “menu del dia”. Which consisted of a soup, main course and a drink. So to be able to order different courses excited the normally traditional Paisas. Normally these fads come and go, but with the good cooking of Herbario it stayed. Plus more Paisas were actually leaving the country for extended periods of time, where as before it had all been those folks from Bogotá. Things were a changing for the returning Paisas.

Our last visit to Herbario was actually very similar to the other times we had eaten there. The menu had not really changed that much. Same cuts of meat, but now came with different sides and different sauces, but in essence it’s the same menu they opened with all those years ago. Time to mix things up a bit I think.  Maybe the chef is too scared to drift to much.
Now Herbario is a good restaurant, a great one by Medellin standards. In fact by Medellin standards its one of the best, but comparing it to places in New York or London, then it’s pretty so so. You could get the same standard of cooking here for half the price you pay in Herbario in Medellin. But this is from a region where people still eat beans and rice at least twice a week. I know I did.

But Medellin is a restrained city and its people are just making there way into a wide world of exotic flavours and foods. They are a people who take two steps forwards and one step back all the time. Traditional people who are just starting to open their eyes a little bit wider. To some it is fascinating, to others it scares the living daylights out of them and Herbario to those who can afford it is helping them on their way.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Sunday Roast @ Canteen

With the amount of eateries in and around Spitalfields Market, it can be very difficult to make a choice as to where to eat. But when you look at some of the dross that is there, the choices are actually very limited. Thankfully. Certain places, with their supposed take on Latin food kinda drive you away than pull you in.
I had eaten once before, and also applied for a job at Canteen when we were travelling through Asia. They replied saying that “can I goto an interview the following day”. I think my response of “Didn’t you read my email, I’m still in Asia”, probably didn’t go down to well in their personnel department. But please you send an email, you expect people to read it. I mean come on.
Thankfully the chefs that work there have their eye on the ball. The food is simple but well cooked. I’ve only eaten there once before, on a Sunday as well, and had the roast. It was as good as you get in any pub. Maybe a little more expensive but same same.

The interior looks like it was all brought from Ikea. Long wooden benches in that Ikea birch wood veneer finish. The chairs have no back for you to lean back on, so no lingering. Big difference from a pub. You eat, drink, chat and carry on your merry way. Very informal, very modern, very new British. 

They have daily specials of stews, roasts, pies and soups. They say in their little booklet that they make everything in house. Whether this is in each restaurant or at a central kitchen, I do not know. But as they charge a lot less than Gordon Ramsey, the press will not care and therefore will never bother to find out.
As it was Sunday, I fancied a roast. Well you got to really. Todays special was roast duck. After watching again the first series of the Sopranos, ducks were on my mind. Lina had the chicken thigh and drumstick and chips with a garlic mayonnaise, not aioli but garlic mayo.
The duck was really nicely cooked, potatoes (thankfully got more than 1½ this time) were not as crispy as I like but nice. The gravy was really good. Proper made gravy. Sign of good things happening in a kitchen, when you get served good gravy. It’s the little details that make a place.
Lina’s chicken skin was nice and crispy, chips ok, and mayo very garlicky. All in all a pretty good Sunday lunch.
The service is not as good as the price of the food should give but it is doable. All the waiters were no doubt foreign students working to pay for their English classes. So their manner was more Euro carefree than professional. As we were sitting pretty close to the kitchen I could hear and see everything going on there. I enjoy the chat, banter of a kitchen.
Now we chefs are only human and after 50 orders of chicken and chips, a chicken and roast tatties can sneak though without being noticed. This did happen, not to us but to a couple near us. They never kicked up a fuss, they simple asked the waiter to replace the chips with the roast tatties they wanted. The little upstart of a waiter stormed off to the kitchen venting his disapproval that the kitchen messed up an order and may affect his tip and the end. The chicken was re-plated with the roast tatties in moments and returned to the couple within a minute. The waiter in the mean time had run over to the restaurant manager to whinge and cry little a spoilt Euro brat.
Now I have worked with chefs who would have, and one nearly did grab a waiter through the service hatch and beat the shit out of him. I think if he had gotten a proper hold of him, he would have succeeded. As all chefs regard waiters as nothing but cheeky little fuckers, who grab the rewards for our hard work. Do we ever receive any tips, well only to make up our wages. You can see which side of the fence I sit on.
I always if I can, make a point of thanking the chefs who cooked my food, with a simple “thanks chef”. Lina laughs every time I do it. But it’s appreciated and welcomed. Try it, and see the reaction you get.
 I’d love one day for a customer to give the tip directly to the kitchen and blow off the waiter. Can you imagine? 

Canteen on Urbanspoon

Friday, 9 April 2010

Queareparaenamorarte – What should I do to make you fall in love with me?

I started to write this blog several months ago, then after a while I forgot about it, but sitting here in North London, I may as well finish it and post it. There is another one, which I shall post in a week or so, maybe.
I first saw Queareparaenamorarte on youtube. It was on an Anthony Bourdain show he did on Colombia. Well actually on Medellin and Cartagena. (Link here).
The name Queareparaenamorarte is a title from an old Colombian song. Which means What should I do to make you fall in love with me? But as being Paisa they have a play on words with that true Paisa dish the arepa. Get it. It’s a Paisa thing, what can we say. You either love them or not, that’s arepas.
The food in this restaurant which sits in La Fe is regional Colombian fare, dishes taken from all over the Colombia. Some recipes seem to be from someones Nan, Aunt or whoever. It’s a mixed bunch.
I’d heard from people that the food was fantastic, well presented, but everyone had the same complaint. The portions were small. Very. What we found was perfectly portioned food. Normal size for us, but for Mr and Mrs Average Paisa the portions were super duper small. Starter size even.
On the youtube video people are singing the praises of the restaurant owner, who is seen hovering over a cook waiting for a chorizo to be cooked. He then takes a piece off the grill. Not very hygienic, but makes great television.
The first time we went, we just sat in the bar and had a beer, when Faustino Asprilla (ex Newcastle footballer and all round Colombian superstar) walks out and jumps in a car with some hot blonde and shoots off. I would have run out and grabbed a foto or autograph, but my beer was getting warm. So I left him in peace. Well he only played for Newcastle.
We went back a few times after to sample the food. I somehow preferred day time eating than night time eating in Colombia, as I always used to goto bed on a full stomach. Never a good thing.
The place is always jammin’ on a weekend afternoon, with the high society of Medellin popping in more to see and be seen than actually eat. I could be rather cynical here and say they wouldn’t understand the food, but you would have to be pretty dead not to enjoy it. For Medellin and area it’s some of the best.
I can not actually remember what we ate when we went during the day, as it was such a long time ago, but when we visited it at night once, we had the mixed platter of little nibbles. A couple of chorizo, morcilla, chicarron (crispy pork skin and fat), platanos. Well basically everything you will find up in the mountains above Medellin, but all served together in bite size morsels. Nice, went down pretty damn well with a few beers, and watching those lovely people of Medellin see and be seen made it a fun evening. 

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Hackney Bores

St John’s – A Revisit for a Lunchtime Treat

We hadn’t been to St John’s since we returned from Latin America, but it was somewhere we were both itching to visit again.
St John’s is kinda like an old friend now. Reliable, trustworthy and always there to restore you to your former self.
As it was my birthday and the amount is going to remain a secret. Although my wife reckons I am in denial about it, much like she was in Argentina. We also had visiting us Lina’s cousin from Bogotá, who like us, is a lover of good food and wine.
Now we always go to our Birthday bashes in the evening, but as Arsenal were playing Barcelona that night, and I was hoping (well praying) that I was to receive a couple of tickets to watch Arsenal play. Alas no. So we booked in for a table for 3 for the lunchtime service. This would be a new experience.
Upon entering the near empty dining room, well it was a Wednesday afternoon, but none the less. Has the credit crunch hit that much that people are not eating lunch now.
However sitting towards the rear was the God like figure of Fergus Henderson. He was sitting with some friends, arms waving around, smiling a large smile. I think he was chatting about the wonders of nose to tail eating or how delightful his lunch was that day. It is very comforting to know that chefs do eat in their own restaurants.

Lina’s cousin had never eaten there before, so we kind of forced him to have the roasted marrow bones, although he didn’t need that much persuading. We opted to share some mackerel pâté on toast.
Mains were a harder choice, I really fancied an ox heart they had on the previous lunchtime menu, but sadly it was not to be on this days. Devil’d Kidneys on toast was up there, but it was kinda more bread and more bread. So they were off. So I opted for a guinea fowl with sautéed cabbage. Reason being, as I saw a couple devouring one in the Great Queen Street restaurant the previous evening, and it was still on my mind. Lina joined me and Alonso opted for some pot-roasted Gloucester Old Spot. Delicious choices.

Lunch was a delicious as we thought it to be. The skin on the birds was crispy, crispy, crispy. Full of flavour. The slices of old spot were cooked to perfection and were delish. This is what I love so much about St John’s is that everything we have ever eaten there has always been spot on. Everything has always been cooked to perfection. How can you not love eating here.
I have read a few blogs where people did not get St John’s. It’s not difficult to get. It’s great food, cooked perfectly. End of story.
Puddings in Colombia are normally a little affair. They have something sweet, maybe a small portion of ice cream or a couple of spoonfuls of arequipe (dulce de leche if you are from Argentina). It’s just something sweet at an end of a meal to round it off, not the British Sunday dinner pudding where you needed to lie down afterwards as you felt your sides splitting.
Now, we wanted something, and to show off something totally English to Alonso. The Eccles cake with Lancashire cheese was ordered. Just one to share. But before I could tuck in, it was grabbed from me and a candle was asked for and was not put down in front of me until I had blown it out, and heard happy birthday sung to me. I wished the world would have opened up. Well only a little.

Something so good about an Eccles cake and cheese that hits the spot. Can’t put my finger on it, but I love it.
I’m beginning to feel that it’s time we did more lunches. I know a few places that have great deals for set menus at lunch. Some of Gordon Ramsey’s places do, Theo Randall does, and until last week the River Café also.
Lunchtime treats are here to stay me feels. 

St John (Farringdon) on Urbanspoon

Monday, 5 April 2010

Baozi Inn – Part One of a Trilogy

When I used to work in Soho, the Baozi Inn after it opened became a place where I used to go and eat when I could not face staff food at the restaurant anymore. Which after a while was quite a lot. After cooking the same food, you kinda get fed up of eating it. Not good. Especially, as I loved the food we used to cook, but seeing it all the time, you need a change. That’s why chefs are whores to their trade, changing restaurants at a drop of a hat. The thought of something better in the next place. Or maybe just the thought of a different cuisine.
But luckily China Town has a few, a very few places that I love to eat at. C & R, Rasa Sayang and the Baozi Inn. All for completely different reasons. Although you can kinda see a link between them all.
The Baozi Inn is the little baby brother of reopened Bar Shu and the new Ba Shan. Both will be reviews here at a later date no doubt. I just need to revisit them. Good times ahead.
The menu is short and sweet and in pictures. It consists mainly of dumplings. Although I prefer the (used to be) hot Sichuan spicy beef noodles. It lacked a lot on our last visit. But the bowl of Wonderful Heaven noodles was in name and dish, heavenly.

I can see a down turn in the quality of the dishes though, the noodles looked and tasted a little cheaper than they used to be. The quality of the final dishes were not what they used to be. Maybe this has to do with the new immigration laws and less and less Chinese students are finding it easy to get work nowadays. Who knows, but the food the other day was not as good as when it opened. Hopefully this is just a short blip and it improves.
Even with it’s slightly tacky Mao style décor, it is a nice place to eat at and one of the stars of the oh so same same bad food of China Town. The service is short and sharp, which is kinda the standard in China Town, but at least these guys are willing to talk about the dishes or give recommendation. I once asked a waiter in a Chinese restaurant nearby about a dish, and he looked at me as if I was the most annoying person in the world. He never did answer my question. He did shoot me a shitty look as we departed and no tip was left for him.
The Baozi Inn is a nice enough stopping point for some give me energy noodle soups. I am hoping our recent visit was just a one off. Another visit in a month or two will tell me this.
Baozi Inn on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Great Queen Street Restaurant – Pie Heaven

Where else do you head to in Covent Garden on a wet, windy, dark, cold Tuesday night? Well, anywhere really that is warm, but in Covent Garden with it’s so so restaurants mainly catering to the tourist trade. Head up onto Great Queen street and find an unsigned restaurant and there you will find great British cooking.
We’ve eaten here on several occasions after it opened, but travelling for nearly a year and a half over the last 2 years has meant we had not been here for a while.
Thankfully it was just the same as when we last left it. The décor is still the same, although different sketches now adorn the walls. Those dark walls and low lighting add to the intimacy of the place.
The menu is still as enticing as it used to be, and thankfully the food is as delicious as it was on our last visit.
The thing I love about this place is that you are still able to just walk in and get a table. There is no “Oh my god, you never booked”. It’s either “just let me get a table ready for you,” or “can you wait a few minutes at the bar, and I’ll get you in a tick”. Good service is a thing hard to find in London’s restaurants and they train them well here.
We were not particularly hungry and I could not have faced a two or three course meal. All I wanted was a nice bottle of red and something warm and substantial to energise me on this dreary night.
The last time we were here, they had a beef and kidney pie (for two) with a suet pastry. It was a huge pie, but that suet crust, even though it was pretty heavy was a delight to eat and mixed with the steak and kidney was a new take on that oh so delicious pudding.
Amazingly this time the pies were back on. This time it was just a steak pie. I’m pretty sure I never looked at anything else on the menu, apart from the rib of beef, chips and béarnaise sauce, which tempting, very tempting never came close to a good pie.
I love the fact that they tell you, even though I knew the pie would take around 30 minutes to cook. Fantastic. Time to soak in some wine and munch on their breads, and chat about all and sundry when you are waiting for good food. I always get into a better mood when I know everything is being done properly.
The pie came. It was as big as I remember it. I think it would do 3 people, after starters of course. But these two hungry weary travellers tucked straight in. The huge cubes of beef were as tender as, and the gravy made up of those fabulous juices was divine. The inclusion of a marrowbone instead of a piece of ceramic to create a bit of space so it doesn’t explode. The marrow was soon scooped out and eaten.
The only sides needed for a pie of this quality were some greens. Potatoes would have been a bit too much, and the added a tad of colour to this dark dish.
The crust, not suet this time, was flaky and nicely cooked. Crunchy even. Perfect. Fantastic meal on a crappy night.
After “service charges” seem to be excluded from the bills these days. I love surprises when I return off trips. I have been working on a way of tipping to meet my experience in the restaurant that night.
So, for me 10% is a standard tip. Split 50/50 between the quality of the dish I receive and the service and décor etc of the dining area. Most times I have forgotten about this since we have been back. I tried it in New York, and I think they look at 10% as a bit of an insult. I hear 18% is normal there. So I added to the stereotype of the tight Englishman. But in the Great Queen Street. I could find no fault. Food, service, ambience was all perfect. We will return.
Great Queen Street on Urbanspoon

Friday, 2 April 2010

Sushi Hiro

I used to pass the blanked out windows of Sushi Hiro twice a day as I went to and from Ealing Common tube station for 1½ years. For some reason, as sometimes this just happens we just never entered, even though we knew there was good sushi inside.
Then we moved to Brentford, and trips to Ealing Common became less and less, and Sushi Hiro started to fade from memory. Once we moved to Islington, Ealing Common was a distant memory, and Sushi Hiro was all but forgotten.
So after moving back to London, and the chance to catch up with old friends before they disappear off into the realms of world travel. Sushi Hiro popped back into my mind. Well they do live close(ish), and Lina works closer, so why not. If you can kill two birds with one stone, why not.
Dinner was arranged and Sushi Hiro would be tried and tested. I had never ever seen inside the restaurant. Only ever looking in one window, which showed the ceramic sushi, and a sign saying “Cash Only”. So it was all a bit of a mystery. None of our friends had even heard of it, never mind tried it.
Upon entering I was amazed to find everything white and very bright. In my amazement, I almost missed the welcome you always receive in Japanese restaurant. I would love to hear that in places like Yo Sushi. Fat chance.
Thankfully I had called the day before and reserved a table, as every space available had a reserved sign upon it. A very popular place.
The hours of Sushi Hiro are odd to say the least. It opens at 11am until 1.30pm. Then reopens again at 4.30pm and finally closes for the day at 9pm. The chefs seemed to walk off at dead on 9. Like any good place that sells fish. It is closed on a Monday.
They are not called Sushi Hiro for nothing. They only sell raw fish, either in sushi form, rolled or on top of rice, or as sashimi.
With menu in hand. Drinks were ordered. Sake, sake and some more sake. Well nearly. Cold oolong tea and some seriously sweet plum wine was also ordered. For the ladies, one with and one about to have a headache the next day.
We opted for one of their combination sushi boards with an extra eel and mackerel, and 6 pieces each of rolled salmon and tuna sushi. Plus miso soups.
The miso soup was delish. It was in a small bowl but tasty as hell none the less. The addition of a few clams, still in their shells gave the soup some added texture. Big time.
The sushi all appeared at the same time. With the addition of a nice mound of pickled ginger and some serious nose clearing wasabi. Boy I love that stuff.
Well what can I say really. It was fantastic. The fish had been cut to perfection and sat on top of the perfectly cooked and seasoned rice like a little king on top of his castle. It was pure heaven.
Although it took a few bites to adjust the taste buds to fully appreciate the subtleness of the flavours. But I think it will take a few more visits to really align them to the deftness of tastes that is in Japanese foods. It is going to be some good times ahead I can see.
The eel rocked my world. It was fantastic. The mackerel was pretty damn good also, bags of flavour there. This was the only warm piece of fish. Maybe they think we can eat cold mackerel. Who knows, but it was pretty damn good.
As I said the shop shuts at 9pm. The chef’s begin to clean up and depart. At around about 8.45pm, the waitress comes around and asks if you would like to place another order. This is your last chance. Get you order in and enjoy.
Sushi-Hiro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Sông Qûe – Good Morning Vietnam …..

In my many many years of travelling around the world. One country I had the chance to goto but never did, mainly because of other peoples experiences there. I.e. they were negative. Was Vietnam.
I had apprehensions about going there, but Lina planned it, so we had to go. I’m so glad we did, as it really is now one of my most favourite countries. Not only for the food, but also the people, the landscape and generally everything. We had such a great time, even in Hanoi, which was my most and least favourite city in Vietnam. It tugged at all my senses and emotions. To that I was glad and sad to leave at the same time. After I left I wanted to return, but alas no. Laos was a calling and we answered.
Three things I had a healthy obsession about in Vietnam. One was the coffee. Thick, dark and strong, drinking it hot in the north, and cold in the south. Two was chicken with lemongrass and chilli. I had it as often as I could in literally every city we went to. The third and by no means least was Phô. In Hanoi we were having this delicious soup twice a day. Once in the morning for breakfast as in those cold mornings of the northern capital, Phô certainly warmed you up.
It’s a filling, deeply satisfying noodle soup with either meat or chicken, depending on what you order. I was partial to both, so used to split it quite evenly. It was so much fun just to wander the city and pick a small hole in the wall and have some Phô. None disappointed, and they all rejuvenated our weary bodies and mind.
So of course living in Islington, we are only a stones through from Kingsland Road. Which contains a good quantity of Vietnamese restaurants. Heaven on our doorstep.
So after buying the latest copy of Time Out’s Eating and Drinking Guide, I browsed the Vietnamese section, and with a list of recommended eateries on that road. We were off.
Sông Qûe really reminds me of a place we ate at in Quy Nhon. A strange town in central Vietnam that so wanted to be on the tourist trail, but really didn’t have anything to offer apart from its oddness. Its major appeal for us was that it wasn’t on the tourist trail. It retained a lot of its Vietnameseness. If that is a word. But you get the meaning.
Sông Qûe was jammed packed with people. The majority were Vietnamese, which is always a good sign of people longing for their homeland. They always head to a place that reminds them of it.
After a short wait some tables become free and sat down we did. Ordered a couple of Hue beers and browsed the menu.
I was going to have a big bowl of Phô, but I noticed chicken with lemongrass and chilli on the menu. Well I could not resist. Lina had some Phô with raw beef. An order of prawn salad rolls was asked for also. Well it would be criminal not to.
The salad rolls were just as we remembered them, well nearly. They lacked some herbs that are purely Vietnamese that just lift a salad roll from one level to another. But they were pretty good. Jammed with herbs, salad leaves and prawns. The peanut sauce was thick and a little spicy. Good combo.
Lina’s Phô had a good stock base. As without one, it’s well just a noodle soup. I once asked in Italy once, what was in the risotto today, and the waitress replied, “The stock is good today”. Nuff said. Without a good base, soups, stews and sauces are pants. It never had that intense beefy flavour you come to expect from simmering beef bones all day and night to produce a stock that, well is to die for. A bit like in El Califa in Mexico City, where they sell the juices of the meat as a soup. Delish.
Lina understandably was coy to share her Phô with me, and only let me have a little. I had to wait a few more minutes for my dish.
To say the end result was not worth the wait, was, well true. It wasn’t. It had a breath of lemongrass and no chilli. The chicken was moist enough and had been cooked in soy sauce, but it lacked any depth at all. The inclusion of nearly raw red and green pepper pieces on top was like a slap in the face. I was disappointed.
But I do want to return, as I love Phô, and it was pretty damn good. But I think I will give the majority of the other things on the menu a wide berth, as they looked and mine tasted like bad Chinese food.
As there are many more Vietnamese restaurants down Kingsland Road, I think it may be a while before we venture back into Sông Qûe if at all.

Song Que on Urbanspoon