Monday, 31 May 2010

Pie n Mash @ Manze's on Chapel Market

For some reason I am partial to a plate of pie and mash. It’s comfort food. Which is really odd, because you accustom comfort food to your childhood. But I cannot honestly remember ever eating it as a kid. I know my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins etc all did, but as I was brought up in a small town in Hampshire. London traditions were quite foreign to me. Maybe it was through their stories of eating it when they were young that it kinda got stuck that way.
I’ve visited many pie n mash shops over the years since I’ve been living in London. Some good, some bad. But all had a great feel to them. It’s a living history when you walk into those shops, with their wooden benches, tiled walls and marble tops and counters. I’m sure some folk feel like they are in another era when they go for their quota.

Pie n mash was, and still is a poor mans dish. Originally from the East End, made with scraps of left over meat from the butchers, cooked with a gravy and put under a piecrust. Served with mashed potato’s, jellied eels (which were in plentiful supply at that time), and smothered in liquor. Which was made up of the water that the eels were cooked in and a shed load of parsley to give it that green look. No food colouring here.
Today, there are still a number of pie n mash shops scattered around parts of London. But their numbers have declined somewhat, but in these credit crunching times, a few new shops are opening up. The food is still cheap and cheerful. It’s never going to win any culinary awards, but it does feed the stomach and the soul.
Manze’s were one of the original “eel n mash” shops in London. The branch on Tower Bridge Road is still open and thriving after 120 years. Some things never go out of fashion. As you can see by this video here.
The branch half way up Chapel Market was opened late 2008 or early 2009 (I think). It’s decked out in the traditional way. Rows of wooden benches with those high backs, that gives a bit of privacy whilst you eat.
I’d been meaning to eat in there since I first saw it, but as with most things in my life, it never happened. But the other day I made an effort and strolled down to Chapel Market for some pie n mash.

The shop was kinda full, which just goes to show even the old favourites are still in vogue in some quarters. Placed my order of large pie and mash at the counter. The waitress told me the large pie was mince beef and onion. I thought that was how they should be. I wonder what other options they have. The smaller ones did not look too keen so I gave them a miss.
Normally you get a scoop of mash from those old ice cream scoops, but here she scooped it up by a spatula and scraped onto the plate with all the finesse she could manage. The mash on one side, pie on the other and the liquor in the middle. Quality. I collected my cutlery and found a booth that never had kids or old folk in it. I can’t deal with eating near kids or old people. Don’t ask.
On your table are salt, black pepper (should be white), malt vinegar and chilli vinegar. Believe you me, you need to add some as it can be rather bland. But they know this and that is why they are there.
The mash was smooth. Needed a lot of seasoning, a touch of butter wouldn’t have gone a miss either. The piecrust was really flaky and tasty. The inside was ok, onions needed cooking a bit more, but it was ok. The liquor needed a heavy dose of vinegar to put some life into it. But without the vinegar “it ain’t nothing” as someone once told me.
All in all it wasn’t a bad meal. Filled my belly and nourished my spirit, as all good foods are supposed to do.

As I left and took a picture of the front, some guy came up to me and told me this place was on the route of the knowledge. So if you jump in a cab and ask for Manze’s on Chapel Market they should be able to bring you here with no problem.
If you’ve never had pie and mash before, give it a try. You will be eating a piece of London history, but be warned don’t expect the food to knock your socks off, instead it will give you a gentle comforting experience. One that you may want to go back for more. 

Manzes on Urbanspoon

Friday, 28 May 2010

Foto Friday # 2

The best street food I have ever eaten. It was on a street corner in Hanoi. 
Bun Cha. An amazing mix of grilled pork, rice noodles, fresh salad leaves and a fish sauce dipping sauce. Awesome.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Ba Shan – Part Two of a Trilogy

With ample time before our film started at the Prince Charles Cinema, we had time to eat somewhere in Soho or Chinatown.
Rasa Sayang came to mind again, as it so often does these days. I’m still bemused with everyones complaints about the bad service there. I’ve never experienced bad service or witnessed bad service there. Maybe my expectations are lower than other peoples.
Also I have eaten at Baozi Inn several times recently and all the noodles I’d had have been of top quality. I remembered in a previous life we ate at Bar Shu on several occasions. So why not try the middle sister, Ba Shan. Good idea.
From what I could gather before hand, the interior was a collection of small dining areas kitted out to look like old teahouses. Very quaint.
We arrived with no reservation and were greeted by a very happy smiley waiter who after taking our names, seated in the front room looking out towards Greek Street. Soho it seemed was beginning to liven up already.
The menu is orientated towards the foods from Szechuan and Shaanxi Provinces in from what I was told, more towards the smaller portion size. Chinese tapas as someone mentioned to me. Oh really.

I love the picture card menu, it’s a good way of introducing people to the foods of these regions. As most people will be just used to Cantonese food they serve in and around Gerrard Street. Although that really differs from Cantonese food in Southern China. Big time.
There are all your favourites on there, like Kung Pao Chicken, and a Szechuan Hotpot. There are also some dry wok dishes. Might try those next time.
After some joking with our waitress, we ordered some Jiamo. It’s basically a pork sandwich from Shaanxi province. The pork was tender and braised very well. It had some nice flavour, but upon looking inside there was a distinct lack of pork. I would have enjoyed a whole lot more, not that I’m greedy at all, but I love pork sarnies.

We ordered two mains. One was duck tongues with braised julianned celery and chilli. Our waitress told me several times that this dish was really hot. I was fine I told her. Thoughts of my near death experience with a chilli in Saigon came back to me. But all turned out well. It was the pork trotter cooked with lashings (their words not mine) of ginger that was really hot. But bearable. More of a numbing of the mouth rather than mouth searing pain.
Did you know duck tongues have a small bone in them. We neither. Came as quite a surprise. The skin was crispy and inside was still moist. It slipped off the bone with ease. Now if we’d been in a small stall in Chengdu market, I would have spat the bones on the floor, as is the custom. But we weren’t, we were in Soho, so I placed them on the bowl to my side. Much preferred to be back in Chengdu though.

It wasn’t that hot after all, maybe the waitress had asked for it to be toned down for us. Ahh so thoughtful. The braised celery was divine. Really good flavour and worked well with the duck tongues.
She forgot to tone down the pork trotter. This gave my mouth such a great feeling, it felt like it was dancing with my food, not only was the taste divine, but those mouth numbing chilli’s made me feel like I was back in Chengdu. Pure heaven.
Apparently ginger is very good for the complexion (the menu says so), and with the amount of ginger in that dish I think I should look like Brad Pitt now.

All in all it was one of the best Chinese meals I’ve ever had outside of China or Hong Kong. Really, really, good.
The price of this good food does hit you at the end. Ours with rice and a couple of beers and tip was £41. Not a cheap Chinese meal by anyones standards, but as I say, you pay peanuts you get monkeys. If you want good food, you have to pay for it. Maybe some people take offence to paying a lot for Chinese food when they can get it as cheap as chips a few minutes away. But that is a whole other world away.
Just as we were waiting for our bill and change. A group of four came in and sat in the same room as us. Northern they were, not that I’m prejudice or anything. But it was quite funny when they started looking through the menu. “It has pictures,” one said. “Ohhh tripe,” said another. Their faces took a funny turn as they went through the menu. Obviously out of towners thinking they would try some of the big city food, as it wasn’t up to their normal sweet and sour pork balls, or special fried rice. They left citing the picture menu put them off.
Food from this part of China is a truly different kettle of fish, but one to explore with great excitement and an open mind.
Next stop a return to Bar Shu.
Ba Shan on Urbanspoon

Monday, 24 May 2010

Sunday Roast @ The Island Queen

The Island Queen is literally sitting in between two pubs. The Duke of Cambridge, with its organic virtues, and the Narrowboat with its boil in the bag foods and quite crap beers.
The Island Queen kinda sits (geographically) in between these two pubs. Although I would say it is the better of the 3 by far.
I’ve never eaten a full meal at the Duke of Cambridge, but to what people have told me and the reviews I’ve read, its food is over priced and not that fantastic. But their bar snacks and cheese boards are. The beers are really why I drink there (when I do). The openness of the bar area is fantastic, so much light and space gives you that relaxed feeling.
The Narrowboat on the other hand is cramped and less than cosy. Its only redeeming feature is that you can stand outside by the canal and watch the world run and cycle by you. Other than that it’s not that good. Again never eaten there, as their boil in the bag food does not grab me. I watched the kitchen before whilst drinking outside.
The Island Queen has a lot of character. Linas cousin introduced me to the place just after we got back. It struck me from the off as a great pub with lots of life. I liked the bar staff and the people who drank and ate there. I love pubs like this.
So for ages I’d been wanting to go back and eat there, as the menu looked appetising to me. An excuse wasn’t needed it was just finding time to fit it in. Not that I’m doing a lot recently, unemployment leaves you with lots of time to do, like err, nothing.
We awoke late on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning. A walk along the canal was planned to take us all the way to Camden and beyond.
Food was either gonna be the Breakfast Club, a favourite in that part of the Upper Street area, or now I had a chance to try the Island Queen. It had been quite a while since my last roast, so let’s kill two birds with one stone.
There are a few tables outside but after my last roast outside on a sunny day, we took quite a battering from Mr Sun, we were glad there were no spaces.
The fantastic horseshoe bar hits you as you walk in. Its high ceilings and those small dainty chandeliers add to the atmosphere of the place. Even though the décor has an Autumnal feel to it, with the large windows in the front and mirrors aptly placed it still feels light and airy.
The roast was what we came for, and the roast we had. I opted for the roast beef, and Lina had the roast leg of lamb, with 2 pints of Hoegaarden it came to about £26(ish).

Normally I would choose a bitter, but on a day like this I wanted something light and refreshing. I even opted for the slice of lemon to be added, something I normally scoff at. But it was a stunning day.
The roasts came and looked identical. Well apart from the meat they were same same. Two roast potatoes (not crispy at all), small mound of nice mash. (I like mash with a roast sometimes), sautéed leeks (yum), a yorkie, that looked not home made but tasted good, and some slightly undercooked carrots and some untopped and untailed, but well cooked French beans.
The meats were ok. Linas lamb had more flavour than my beef, but the good gravy over powered both. The mint and horseradish sauces were both from a jar. Not only could you tell, but the chef asked a barman to go out and buy some more as he was running out. Quality.
It was not a stunning roast by anyones standards, it was more like going round a mates house and having a roast there. Nice and comforting.
I want to return there, but maybe just to drink, as they have an impressive display of Euro beers and some good ciders, and I love pubs with character. There are so few of them left these days.

Island Queen on Urbanspoon

Friday, 21 May 2010

Foto Friday # 1

This is the small house we lived in for six months or so in Colombia last year. It's in a small parcel of land outside of El Retiro, and about 45 minutes from Medellin. I miss it a little.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

A Little Push in the Right Direction

I’m finding recently that I am not doing too much. All I seem to do is eating in restaurants and write about it afterwards in a curious fashion.
Not to say this isn’t a good thing, but it seems to be distracting me from doing the thing I enjoy the most. Cooking. To be honest I just can’t be arsed.
I have no idea why I cannot be really bothered to cook that much. I’ve done a little since we’ve been back but nothing really to shout home about. I mean making lunches for Lina, (she must be getting so fed up with couscous by now) is not really inspiring me that much.
I mean it’s taken me 2½ months to start curing my own bacon, and only last week did I make a terrine for the first time since we’ve been back. These were normal things I would do only a bi-monthly basis at least before.
Am I going through a midlife crisis? Maybe. Were my vain attempts to shrug off hitting my 4th decade just a whimsical effort of pretending it never happened.
Or is it as I think that being without work for so long is really having an effect on me. I mean it’s only been 10 weeks.
Boredom is settling in.
All this is to change, as of June 1st I start work. Finally. Not for the want of trying. Well the company I will be working for call it training. Which will involve around 2 months of travelling in India, Nepal and China. Which I will not be enjoying, it’s for work and work alone. But I’m sure I can fit in some quality eating whilst I am over there. Hopefully.
So from now on I am making a vow. No more not being arsed to cook. I will cook damn it. I will be trying to cook what I enjoy cooking most. Offal and the cheaper cuts of meat. Although some of them are quite in vogue at the moment. These all will be posted here from time to time. But as I said it all depends on the outcome. We’ll see.
I’ve started by curing a piece of pork belly. Admittedly it’s a small piece as I slow roasted a sizable chunk of the rest, and half of what was left went into some Boston Baked Beans I rustled up the other day. Yum yum.
I’m not sure if I will reach up to my heady days in Colombia where I used to cook pig’s head and make a slab of brawn. Brine and cook ox tongues. I almost brought a calf’s head once to make a terrine, until Lina advised me we did not have a pot big enough. It was really big. 
So we shall see what the ethnic butchers around Islington and beyond can rustle up for me. 

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Byron Burger @ Upper Street Branch

Since returning from our mini stopover in New York back in March, we seemed not to have eaten a burger, and now I was beginning to have a craving for one or two.
As I noticed in New York, people there eat burgers probably two or three times a week, mainly as a quick lunch as we would eat a sandwich. They are very cheap and can eaten on the go.
The burgers there and the burgers here are so so different. Here, you pay a lot more but you also get a lot more. There, the burgers are in small buns and are not too dissimilar to those god awful chain specimens. Maybe that’s why they are still so popular.
Anyhows, I had a craving and it needed feeding. I noticed a branch of Byrons had sprung up on Upper Street. I’d seen another one in Soho somewhere, and heard of one in Kensington. The word on the street was that they did pretty good burgers.
That day I had been helping some friends move, and they had a lot of stuff, packed away in all sorts of boxes, draws, pots etc. Yes, they were not very good packers, but it did help me to realise how unfit I was. Very unfit. That will have to be put right. One day.
So, after a day of lugging too many tables up too many flights of stairs, I had a hunger that only a cow could subdue. I’m sure if we’d had been near to Buen Ayre, I think that is where I would have gone, we weren’t, but we were within walking distance of Byrons.
The welcome there is very friendly and so American. It is simply designed, lots of colour, which is good. Puts you in a happy mood. Which is the opposite from the outside. Bit bare really. Looks like they run pout of paint when they were doing it up.
The menu really has one burger on it, but with the addition of different toppings and extras you can build a masterpiece, or by paying £3.50p extra you can make it a double. They also have a chicken fillet burger and the lonely veggie option all the way at the bottom. It amazes me, as the few veggies I know do not like entering meat haven shrines. So why pander to them.
After a little time browsing the menu and looking around, we opted very simply for 2 classic burgers, onion rings and French fries. Thankfully the burgers are all cooked to medium as standard, as I hate when they ask how you want it, and they never come as you want. At least this way the cooks should be able to get them right.
First to the sides. The onion rings had that yummy sweet onion taste I love so much. The batter was a tad greasy, and being served in a bowl with greaseproof paper in the bottom. The grease made a nice little pool in the bottom. Lovely.
The French fries were ok, nothing special but cooked well and not too greasy.
The burgers though actually tasted of meat. Thank the lord. So many times recently I have tasted beef that does not taste of beef. The meat they say is ground and made into burgers fresh each day. These were seasoned very well, and had that beefy taste to them. The topping of lettuce and red onion slices are a standard that you either love them or hate them. Lina hates raw onion so I always get an extra helping.
A lot of burgers buns normally fall apart from being over soggy, as they do not let the burger rest before it goes on the bun. There was no such disaster happening here. The buns were actually really light and tasty. A compliment to the burgers.
We ordered two beers good ol’ yankee style. Not bad. I was in need of a beer after the day of hard slog I had, but on another occasion I would have ordered one of the shakes. Next time.
All in all it was a good experience considering it is a chain, but if you do one thing and do it well you will succeed. I think Byron will be around for a long time if they keep this up. Excellent
Byron Islington on Urbanspoon

Monday, 17 May 2010

Dining with Heston

You know you are in for a good dining experience when you walk into a restaurant and the first person you spot is Heston Blumenthal eating, smiling and joking around. Good times ahead.
I am really perplexed as to why we have not been to Tayyabs before. It ticks all the right boxes of everything I love about food. Its simple well cooked dishes are brimming with flavour and knock your socks off. The restaurant has a great atmosphere. Not so sure on the décor though, that water feature is a little odd. But the best thing is that the prices for such a place that has such cult status are pretty reasonable.
A restaurant like this on say Brick Lane would be charging a lot more. If it happened to be in Soho, then you’d be looking at an easy £15 for a main or more.
It’s the smell of spices that hits you as you draw closer to the entrance. The place is a lot bigger than I imagined. All talk of a simple Pakistani café has changed with a long shop front and a modern interior, but thankfully the food lived up to the hype. Now that hasn’t been happening a lot recently.
As I mentioned in the beginning, as we walked in, to our left was Heston, having a great time with some friends, one of which was Hardeep Singh Kohli, yes the comedian with the pink turban. I know Heston is opening a restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental, maybe he’s planning a joint venture into the curry scene also. Watch out Atul Kochhar.

Jaw closed and excited about being in the same restaurant with one of the best chefs on the planet, we sat down and started to munch on the poppadoms and chutneys that were placed in front of us almost as soon as we sat down.
I’d already browsed the menu online, so I knew what was to have. We are very much like children in a sweet shop. We order too much and regret it afterwards. We did the same this time, but I didn’t regret it. Next time less.

We are still talking about how good those lamb chops were. The way the loin had been sliced in half and rubbed with garam masala and grilled to perfection. Since I have a temporary crown in at the moment, I am reluctant to gnaw at the bones, as I once did like a dog. Shame.

The spinach and potatoes of Saag Aloo was delish, as well as the super tender, super flavorsome karahi gohst. God I missed lamb curries.

We are kind predictable in Indian restaurants as I always order a keema naan and Lina always has to have rice. I like bread, she’s into rice. It’s a cultural thing you understand.
I’d forgotten it was a BYO, but I was happy I’d forgotten as we got to have the mango lassi. Wow, packs a punch of mango for sure.
I’m sure we are going to now become regulars at Tayyabs, but as there are a few more places to try in the area, I guess it may be at least a few more days before we get to return.

Whether Heston will be there is unlikely, but I know I will enjoy my meal none the less.
Tayyabs on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Bocca Di Lupo - The Mouth of the Wolf

I must have been one of the few people so far not to have eaten at Bocca Di Lupo. I followed its opening and the hurrah it created and the rush to eat there with interest. Yes it really was and still is in vogue. Maybe a little too much, as some of the reviews I read were showing the place had teething pains. But doesn’t every restaurant have those problems at the beginning. It normally takes a few months for the wrinkles to be ironed out, and you are left with a great product.
Well except for the ill-fated Tom Etridge’s Ito. It was supposed to herald a new concept in healthy dining at the then newly opened Westfield shopping centre. Unfortunately the wrinkles never got ironed out, and it was doomed to failure from day one. That was my first jaunt into a professional kitchen. I learnt from the inside why a restaurant is not going to work, and Ito was a case subject.
So, well over a year since it opened, I found myself with a few opportunities to go and eat there. Twice I tried with Lina, but on both occasions she couldn’t make it, and as I so hate eating alone. I like talking while I eat and sharing a meal. Well mainly picking off the other persons plate.
In steps an old work buddy who whilst out for a few drinks at the Dovetail in Farringdon said he had a few days off the following week, and wondered if I wanted lunch. Partner sorted.
For some reason, on their web site you can only book before 1pm or after 2pm to be able to eat at the chef’s counter. The restaurant is closed off. But the chef’s counter is where the action is. I hated working next to the counter at Ito. All I could hear were the bitchy comments of the customers. Actually most were justified.
When I sent Julian the website to checkout the menu, his reply was “Anywhere that sells tripe is a place I want to eat at.”
Bocca Di Lupo as you all know cooks Italian regional food, but a lot of it is Roman fried food. The menu is long and can be a pain or a treat to get through, it took us at least 30 minutes to decide, but we were more nattering than looking.
You can have big plates or small plates of dishes. Or you can have one plate meals. All too confusing for two people who wanted to eat the lot.
We were given some great focaccia and pungent olive oil to dip it in. Really nice olive oil.

I settled on the one plate meal of Amatriciana, tubular pasta with cured pigs cheek with pecorino cheese and tomato. Since normally I hate pasta in restaurants, as it’s normally over cooked and soggy. This was pretty damn good. Only disappointment was the guanciale. I was expecting it to have a really strong flavour, but all I got was the same as my homemade pancetta. Which I have to tell you is really bloody good, but with the pig cheek I was expecting much more. It was a sizable portion and I was still eating long after Julian had finished all of his.

Julian opted for two small plates, one of Baccala (salt cod, deep fried in a light batter). He never gave me any to taste, so I cannot say how it tasted, but he said it was some of the best fish he had ever eaten.
The other small plate was Tripe with guanciale. This was really good. The star of the show by far. Beats all the mondongo (tripe soup) I ate in Colombia. The tripe had so much flavour. It was delicious. Would return there just to eat that again.
Julian being the greedy git he is had another small plate. This time of Boccocini. A small unripened buffalo cheese, deep fried in batter. Again I never got to taste this, but there were murmurs of approval.
We both had a pud. His a sanguinaccio. In Bocca Di Lupo, it’s a chocolate mousse made with pigs blood. He said it was good and had a taste he couldn’t put his finger on. That would be the pigs blood then. It’s served as a pate and you get a couple of slices of brioche to eat it with.

I had the cannoli. To be honest this was the least favorable part of the meal. The ricotta really had no flavor at all. Which is a shame, as I love ricotta. But I’m not a big pud fan anyhows.
All in all Bocca Di Lupo lived up to the hype, but still left us a little flat. I want to return, not only to see if was just an off day, but to have some more of that tripe.

Bocca di Lupo on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Fish n Chips @ The Yacht in Greenwich

Has anyone been to Greenwich during the week? If you have, you will know it is a desolate place with a scattering of a few tourists who never realised there is a market here every Sunday, and quite a few old age pensioners out for the day. An exciting place during the week as you can see.
This was my second time here in Greenwich outside of the popular and crowded weekend time slot. Both times it has been miserable and grey. Which really sums up Greenwich during the week.
Their used to be a fabulous Pie n Mash shop very near to the station. Alas it has gone, replaced by a tacky tourist shop selling all the normal Union Jack rubbish. Sign of the times I guess. There aren’t too many of those old pie shops left now. Shame.
The only other option dining I know of in Greenwich is The Yacht. It’s a bit of a wander down by the riverfront past the National Maritime Museum. It’s nestled down a small alley around the corner from the Trafalgar.  
It’s a typical pub, but has the added benefit of a superb view over looking the Thames, and you can even see the Dome as well. Added bonus.
The food is fairly typical pub fare, mainly catering to the tourist and weekend trade. It is heaving on Sunday lunchtime, which was the only time we have ever been there.
We’ve only ever eaten the fish n chips there. I really cannot say what anything else tastes like. I’d imagine a bit like any other pub food really.
You can have the fish n chips in two sizes. Normal and huge, and I mean huge. It’s enough for 2. It’s a monumental piece of fish. Mr Creosote would have trouble finishing a portion.

As pub grub goes, the normal portion is a pretty good size. The chips are as with every pub these days brought in, pre-prepared. Shame they were not chunky chips.
The batter wasn’t too bad, a tad greasy compounded by the fact it was all served on a piece of greaseproof paper. Why?
The mushy peas were really good though. Had that strong mushy pea flavour that sets the men from the boys. The tartare sauce I am sure was from a jar, as so few places these days make their own fresh.
The staff are pretty friendly, and they have a good range of beers and an extensive wine list.
It’s a nice place to eat and is the same as we remembered it. Which we are finding a lot recently that old favourites no longer are the same. Most have declined.

All in all Greenwich in the week is a quiet place. If you do go, go in good weather.
Yacht on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Wallace @ The Wallace Collection

After reading the London Eaters blog of the Wallace restaurant, and hearing from so many friends that the museum itself is well worth a visit.
The museum is set within the old London town house of the Wallace family. A super über cool family, who knew their art, and had the money to purchase it as well.
The house alone is an amazing spectacle. Then you have the paintings, to which some date back to the 15th Century. The self-portrait by Rembrandt is definitely a highlight of the collection for me.
There is a spectacular range of beautiful weapons at the rear of the house. Who ever said war couldn’t be art as well. Sun Tzu did anyhows.
Oliver Peyton owns the restaurant. Yes, the annoying guy on the British menu show. It has a magnificent high glass ceiling, which on a sunny day gives you a wondrous feeling to dine beneath it. Although on the café side, the sun disappears mid afternoon.
We were not in the mood for a full on meal, but fancied something light and easy. So we opted for the café side of the restaurant.
The menu is pretty basic, lots of terrines, rillettes, quiches etc. I choose a game pate, and Lina had a goats cheese quiche.
To get the full effect of the sunshine we opted for the far side, mainly because where they wanted to seat us was too close to a group of seemingly geriatric pensioners. God I hope I do not end up like that.
Where we ended up we were between a group of ladies lunching, who had a tad too much perfume on for anyone’s good, and a group of Essex women on a trip to the city. Why is that horrid accent so ear piercing? Have I been bad in a former life?
The food arrived, hurrah. The presentation was very summery and fitted the sun-drenched room. It’s a shame, as what was building up to a delicious lunch, kinda came crashing down.
For starters the red endive leaves had no seasoning at all. The dressing was squirted on and formed puddles on the leaves.
My pate, had all the creaminess of a pate, but lacked any real flavour. It really did not taste of game at all. Maybe the chef was going for a subtle flavour. Well it was so subtle it got lost in the kitchen.
The goat cheese quiche did have subtle undertones of cheesiness, but not a lot else. The pastry was a little over done, but it was still quite nice, albeit weak.
But it was nice to sit there in the glorious sunshine, even with some shrieking Essex women deafening me to my right, talking about their new en-suite bathrooms.
I don’t think I would go back and eat in the restaurant, even with the promise of a 50% reduction off the first bottle of wine with my lunch receipt. I can however imagine the room to look amazing lit by candlelight.
Until I hear them regularly using a little white substance called salt I shall not return.
Wallace on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Busaba Eathai – Faux Thai Eatery in Soho

Our one and only visit to Busaba Eathai was so long ago I cannot remember much about it. Apart from Lina was violently sick for 2 days solid. So obviously we never ever returned. Every time we walked past it, I could she her shudder as the memories came flooding back.
At least 10 years later, we were stuck for some cheap chow in Soho. China Town was an option, but I just didn’t fancy it. Strangely we were standing opposite Busaba. I just threw it in there as an option, as we were standing outside. Amazing Lina said OK. All was forgotten and forgiven for said mentioned illness, the specifics of which I will not get into, as this is not a medical blog.
I’m sure everyone knows what the interior of this Thai style eatery is like. Large square wooden tables that seat about 12 people on each. Well over a hundred people can cram into its space, and I’m sure on a weekend nights it does. I’ve seen the queue outside. It has that Wagamama feel to it. No backs to the benches, so you do not linger after your meal. Eat, pay and leave it what they want.
The menu is knda Thai in a way. I know so many people who rave about this place, but to be honest we were truly disappointed. I must ask them if they have ever been to Thailand. As the food has been watered down to fit a Western palette.

My lamb red curry Chiang Mai noodles were weak and feeble. There was some heat to the dish, and a lot of coconut but not much else. The lamb was tender but the coconut milk dominated everything in the dish that I could not taste it too much. Good portion though. The paste I’m sure was a factory made, not blended in-house by the kitchen. 
Lina’s crab pad thai was ok. Nice white crab meat, but not a lot of it. Noodles ok, but it was badly under seasoned and needed a dash or two of fish sauce to give it some taste.

If you are going to say Lemongrass tea, then please put some lemongrass into the pot to give some taste. Not just one small bit.
For the quality of the food and the price, it’s just not worth it. But this is Soho, so it is constantly busy. A nice little earner for the owner.

The only good thing of the meal was that at least neither of us was sick this time. 

Busaba Eathai on Urbanspoon

Friday, 7 May 2010

Viet Grill – It’s as good as it gets over here….

Whilst we enjoyed our meal at Song Que, it left us a tad disappointed. As we both knew Vietnamese food is a lot better than that. The broth for the Pho was excellent, but it would have to be. As if any self-respecting Vietnamese restaurant serves up a limp sipid broth for their Pho then they should not be in business. Ahh like that chain Pho. Utter garbage, they even served the stock was luke warm. Disgraceful.
It’s amazing how people writing blogs, has really opened up a new sphere on restaurant reviews. Gone are the days of your over paid newspaper critics pushing for free meals for a good review. I’ve seen a few recently, and in the restaurant we cooked a fair few free meals for reviewers. So nowadays I’m more inclined to believe bloggers than professional reviewers.
So after reading quite a few blogs on the experiences at Viet Grill, which were all mostly positive. This is always a good thing. When 20 people say something is good it kinda is, well most of the time. But you can more or less spot the fake ones these days.
So as we have some friends who are making their way into Asia for the first time. We wanted to give them a taste of how good Vietnamese food is. It was also their first time out East, as pure Westerners, the East is a mysterious place for them, only glimpses of stories in the metro in the morning. But they were keen to come all the way over here. So we couldn’t say no. 
The interior of the Viet Grill is pretty swish, which is in stark contrast to the flashing neon sign on the outside. Lots of dark wood and moody green lighting. A complete change to other Vietnamese joints on the same road.
We were seated next to a fish tank of 3 bored looking fish that just stared at us during our whole time there. Reminded me of that scene in Monty Pythons Meaning of Life right before Mr Creosote enters the restaurant. Thankfully he wasn’t there that night.
The menu is long and varied, with some classic Vietnamese dishes, and some Viet Grill variations.
We started off with the the mixed starter platter was pretty good, although the highlight was the chilli salt and pepper fried squid, which had a lovely light crust to it. Lush. The deep fried spring rolls were scrumptious also, but did not match the fresh salad rolls, which we ordered as another starter. Just to get the party going you see.
These had that fantastic Vietnamese mint which has a kinda aniseed taste to it. Truly delicious and fresh. Best salad rolls I’ve had outside of Vietnam for sure.
The best lunch I ever had in Vietnam was Bun Cha. Its bar-b-q’d pork, served with white rice noodles, some salad and a fish sauce dip. Simplicity in its purest form. Viet Grill does it as a one pot meal. So the dip is below the noodles and the pork on top. It was good, but nothing like it’s original Hanoi counterpart.
Lina had the Bun Bo Hue, a spicy Pho originally from Hue. As with any self respecting Vietnamese restaurant if you cannot do a good Pho, you shouldn’t be in business. That’s why Viet Grill are still in business, the broth had good depth and a little spicy but not too much. T’was a great of pho.
Our friends stuck with something they could understand off the menu. It didn’t look too exciting and I cannot actually remember what they had, but they said it tasted great, and they were very happy.
With the amount of drinks we had before we ordered and during the meal, the bill was a little steep, which is easily done in a quality place like this where you really want to eat everything off the menu. The service was sometimes a little too much. One of us was running a few minutes late, but 3 or 4 waiters kept coming over to remove the cutlery from the empty seat.  It was a constant fight to keep them there. But this did mean they cleared away any empty plates right away. Which is a good thing.
Will be returning to Viet Grill really soon, but hopefully spending a little less.
Afterwards we stopped in at the Electric Showrooms on our way back to Old Street tube. Great place, it was a little quiet, but it was 11pm on a Wednesday night. So all can be forgiven.
I really like interesting odd pubs, and the Electric Showrooms definitely fits the bill. I’ve found my next set of Xmas lights, but how am I to steal that flashing peacock out back.
Although we never ate anything, the menu looked pretty good. Nice and simple. Good selection of beers and bitters. Good wine list to keep our wine head of the night happy. Must really explore this part of London much much more. 

Viet Grill The Vietnamese Kitchen on Urbanspoon
Electricity Showrooms on Urbanspoon