Sunday, 27 November 2011

J is for Japanese @ Tosa

I cannot even remember what year it was when my one and only visit to Tosa was. Maybe it was in 2006 or 2007? Who knows? But ever since then I have constantly said “I have to return”. But alas I never ever did.
But ever since we began this A – Z of London restaurants J was always going to be Japanese and Tosa was always going to get a mention.
I was thinking that it would have been pretty predictable to go for your normal sushi bar. I am really wanting to try Atari, but kinda nervous as Sushi Hiro could be a hard act to follow. But this time I wanted something different.
I kind of stacked Tosa in my favour as I wrote a gleaming email about it, whilst the other options didn’t quite get a glowing report.

Tosa specialises in grilled meats on sticks over charcoal. This we had many a time in bars in Japan, especially Tokyo, which after dark were full of salary men relaxing after a hard days work with a few beers with some co workers and a few grilled sticks of meat. Hey that I think should be everyone’s after work chill out.
Tosa’s menu is pretty vast, and where the grilled skewers take centre stage, there are some of the favourites that will satisfy all tastes if the skewers do not float your boat.
I wanted one thing and one thing only. Yes, what they are famous for.
I think between the four of us we ordered a vast amount of food that just kept coming and coming. Yes this was dangerous territory as if I have had another beer or two we would have at least doubled the bill. But it would have been worth it.

As Tosa does not really do main meals as such, it’s best to order a bit of everything, which I think we did.
There are too many dishes that we ordered to go over, so my favourites were the Chicken Liver, Ox Tongue, Uzura (Quails eggs), Tebasaki (Grilled Chicken Tips). Sadly the Torikawa (Grilled Chicken Skin) was unavailable.
There is something I love about grilled offal. Ever since my first trip to Argentina and eating grilled innards, I have become addicted.

The Grill Master cooked everything I tasted to perfection, and the liver was perfectly juicy. Delish, really delish.
I was really tempted to have the Zaru Soba (Cold Soba Noodles with a Bonito based Special Sauce), but I think I had ordered enough for this time and the noodles may have pushed me over the edge.

I noticed on the website afterwards that if you send them your email address, there are promotions to be had, like 15% off the food bill this month for Sunday to Thursday evenings. Nice. That means you can order extra skewers.
Next time I’m going all out on the grilled fish. Let’s just hope it isn’t another 5 or 6 years till my next visit.
Tosa is definitely worth a special visit to this part of West London.

Tosa on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Swing Dancing and the Victoria Tandoori

A few weeks ago we went to watch some friends perform at a Swing Dance performance in Hackney.
To be honest if they were not performing I would not have given it a second thought about going. In fact it’s very unlikely I would even have known this all existed.
It’s a big thing in London it seems. Regular dancehall meet ups and lots of groups in all parts of London were there showing off their routines.
It was an enjoyable night and the performances were really good, and some were exceptional.
I can say that I have absolutely no rhythm at all, and am probably the worst dancer in the world. Well I can’t, so I was very impressed with those folks who had the bravery to go and dance in front of an audience of at least a few hundred.
The video was taken on my old flip camera, sadly now lost somewhere on the London underground I thinks. But I’m slowly getting more Amazon vouchers so I can buy another one.

After watching a ton of groups we decided we were all hungry and wandered through Victoria Park to get some food. The Littlest One knew of a really good and cheap Indian restaurant near to where she lived. So food sorted.
The Victoria Tandoori is your old skool Indian restaurant, basic furniture with very friendly chatty staff who were more than happy to accommodate our table of 10 with out a pause for breath.
I’m sure that chef must have shat himself with the amount of food we ordered. We literally ordered everything off the menu. OK slight over exaggeration but it was a lot and all was liberally shared between us.
High fives goto the Tandoori Chicken, even with it’s red coloring, but the taste was superb and unlike most places, damn juicy as well.
The Dal Makhani was rich and creamy, it was only missing that smoky taste of being cooked for an age over burning embers..
A Beef Madras and a Chicken Korma headed up the curry section and all with flying colours, as did the wide assortment of naans we ordered as well.
It was a good feast all washed down liberally with large glasses of Cobra Beer. I wished I lived closer to the Victoria Tandoori as it is a great and very economical place to eat and I’m sure I would be a serious regular.

Victoria Tandoori on Urbanspoon

Friday, 18 November 2011

Foto Friday # 77

Taken on a road side in Costa Rica by my Costa Rican uncle. I'm hoping he wasn't talking about my food.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Post Holiday Blues

We’ve been home for about 5 weeks now from our rather too short a trip to China. If the truth be told we are still suffering from those dreaded holiday blues. I’m still down and I don’t want to be here, I want to be back in China. I really do. I’ve never been affected like before after a trip.
This holiday was never going to be a wondrous culinary adventure as most trips to China are, no this was just going to be about the people and the places.

We both had our own agendas for this jaunt around China. I wanted to see some old villages that probably would not be around in a few years time. Lina wanted to see the minority tribes that she hadn’t visited before. Strangely enough 9 times out of ten these two wishes both went together. We were both winners.
This trip was going to be kept to a small area, mainly because we only had 3 weeks. I wanted 3 months, but sadly my company wouldn’t pay me for 3 months paid leave. Damn them.

After weeks of us toing and froing between different regions of China. We finally made a decision and narrowed it down to Hunan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces, plus a start and finish in Guangzhou to see if the city is similar to Hong Kong.
Amazingly it had been 7 years since our last visit to the Mainland, and I missed it so. I cannot count Hong Kong really, as that is a whole different kettle of fish altogether. But 7 years, that is too long a time. Why did we wait so long?
So after a long China Southern flight into Guangzhou and a quick transfer to one of the high speed railway stations we were on a T Class train hurtling at just over 300 kilometres an hour north to Changsha. The capital of Hunan province.

I’ve only ever been on a train that can go this fast a few times before and they were in Japan. It’s amazing how smooth they run. Certainly beats the British Rail.
I’m not sure how many Guizi or Gweilo travel to Changsha, but I’m sure it’s not many. Unlike in the city of Guangzhou with its countless migrant workers from small rural areas, we were not met with stares of mistrust. Instead we were met with smiles of welcome. This carried all the way through our trip until we hit Guangzhou, where as in all big cities the population are far too busy to even think about smiling.
So this is going to be a long drawn out process of me waffling on about a fantastic trip that we had to China, and hopefully it will make you plan a trip there and enjoy it as much as we did.
More on Hunan next time.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

An Underwhelming Feeling @ Meat Liquor

To say we were underwhelmed by our first impression of Meat Liquor would be an understatement. After reading for such a long time about the God like status of the Meat Wagon in South London, I was expecting some really good stuff from the now stationary place in Marylebone.

Unfortunately we left with a feeling of “What is all the fuss about”. But on the other hand there were many plus points and really only a couple of negative things I have about the place. This are to get them out of the way now.

  1. The lighting is too low and the menu is in such fine print that it is really very difficult to read. There is sometimes being cool is just not practical.
  2. The hour wait for 2 burgers, fries and onions rings is taking the piss a bit. In Spanish they say “El Chef esta rascandose las pelotas” I think they were doing that here also. Although I hope not.
I understand that the reputation of the Meat Wagon was built around this long fabled wait, but really, it does not take an hour to cook a burger. I hope to god he sorts this out, otherwise people in this part of London are gonna get pissed off pretty quickly. Once they may let it slide, twice, they will be having second thoughts about returning. Anyhows onto the food. We ordered a cheese, bacon burger and a chilli burger, chilli fries and onion rings and 4 Meatjitos. I think we would have ordered some more food, but we had trouble reading the non readable menu over a small candle.

The burgers were good, but not the best I’ve had in London. That so far still goes to the Lucky Chip Burger Van close to Broadway Market. 

They were both were well cooked, but I don’t think they warrant the mythical status they have achieved in the London blogosphere. But then again after 2 hours of waiting for a burger, and drinking a lot of booze in between, its understandable that the food will taste unbelievable.

The chilli fries needed a bit more heat in the chilli, and a tad more seasoning. But thankfully they never contained beans. Phew. That would have sent me over the edge.
The onion rings were damn fine large fluffy rings of battered sweet onions. This is how an onion ring should be. Large, crispy on the outside with the sweet onion on the inside. I wish I’d had ordered more of these beauties. They were a delight.
The Meatjitos were served in jam jars and I kinda like that. Actually all the drinks we saw were served in these jars. They were a good balance of sweet from the sugar, sour from the lime and a knockout punch from the rum. Just how I like it.

If I could have read the menu in depth I would have ordered the House Grog as well. Reading it now it reads so well. Although I’m more keen on it because they say only 2 servings per person. May have to take them up on that next time.

The interior as I may have mentioned is dark. The interior designers have gone to town on the artwork. It resembles a 1980’s hard rock club, but without the filth and grime. The music is a good mix as well. I was particularly glad to hear Lemmy blaring out The Ace of Spades.

All in all Meat Liquor was a tad disappointing, but it had some plus points going for it. I will return to see if they were a one off, but if I have to wait an hour again for a burger then it will be shelved forever. C'mon guys sort it out. 

Meat Liquor on Urbanspoon

Friday, 11 November 2011

Foto Friday # 76

The heat and humidity of Guangzhou even at 7 in the morning was to much for my camera. This simple restaurant opposite Guangzhou North Railway Station served up simple noodle soup and mixed meat congee for about 60p.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Banana Tree Soho – The Blandest Meal of the Century

I seem to be getting a lot of invites to try out new restaurants recently. Most of then I turn down because even though they are free I don’t want to eat at those establishments.
I was in two minds whether or not to accept the invitation to eat at the new Banana Tree in Soho.
I’d tried the branch in Angel on one of the Tube Strike Mondays. Ahhhh I miss those days, the only good thing of working over the other side of London. C’mon you greedy tube drivers, I think it’s time for some more pointless strikes so I can have some more days off work.

I was not impressed with the concept nor the food at the Angel branch. I thought it was for people who were shit scared of Asian food and wanted a dumbed down version to get their chops around it.
Finally I relented and mid week we wandered down to the Soho branch with our £60 voucher expecting to get through about half of it. How wrong I was.

The neo industrial look is the matter of course these days, everyone including shops are jumping on the band wagon. I’ll be delighted when someone finally doesn’t do it.
We ordered a beer and a cocktail and 6 of the satay sticks to get us going. The sticks were ok. Nice charring, but really not much taste on the chicken itself. The peanut sauce was pretty good, and I wished I had kept it on the table for the following courses.

We began ordering. Well we had £60 to get through. The Papaya Salad came first and after trying it made me remember why I should not have relented to this freebie offer. Unbelievable it actually had no taste at all. The dressing was non existent and the papaya had no crunch to it. Soft and floopy. I felt really sorry for the fruit to end its life on a plate as part of a poor excuse for a salad.

The Roasted Duck in Hoisin Sauce actually wasn’t that bad. The meat was juicy enough, but the sauce was too loose and a bit over powering.

Next up was the Char Grilled Chicken Bakar Java. The menu said the chicken was marinated in an array of Javanese aromatic spices, grilled slowly to perfection. I’ve no idea what their idea of perfection is, but it was far from mine. The chicken had some nice charring on it, but it was dry and a tad tough. I’ve no idea how long it had been marinating for, but it obviously was not long enough. Those Javanese spices failed to shine through.

I had this served with a Nasi Goreng, which turned out to be a bland egg fried rice. That’s two dull Nasi Gorengs I’ve tasted recently, and both have been a poor substitute for the real deal.
Amazingly in the end we managed to spend £59 on really not much food and a few drinks. But then again we are in Soho.

Banana Tree is what it is really. A pan Asian chain restaurant serving up watered down and bland food to the masses in neo industrial surroundings. It’s gonna make its owners a hell of a lot of money.

Banana Tree on Urbanspoon

Friday, 4 November 2011

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

South Indian @ Ganapati

What a difference 24 hours can make. After a very disappointing night at a tourist Indonesian restaurant in Central London, we end up at a great little South India joint in Peckham.

I’ve never been to Peckham before, well only on a Saturday night when Del Boy would find his way on to my teatime tele viewing. I was a young lad way back in the early 80’s.
To be honest I never contemplated going to Peckham, but after a recommendation to try Ganapati, we just had to go. So a venture south of the river was set up.
As you walk into Ganapati you get a hit of the spices being used in the kitchen. It’s a good one, and really did, just for a moment, transport me back to India. This was going to be good.
We had been warned that the place was small, and yes it is. We took a chance by just turning up, as I’m reliable informed you need to book for dinner. Thankfully it was mildly full when we turned up for some lunch on probably the last good weekend of the year.
I like the feel of the place, with its sparten look and reclaimed furniture, the mixture of fotos on the walls and a statue of Ganesh by the front door to look over the kitchen and its patrons. Yes this was a nice place.

I’ve never been to South India, having only ventured up from Mumbai on my many travels within this incredible country.
Since I’ve only ever been to the north my knowledge of south Indian food is pretty much zip. It’s weird, but thinking about it, I seem to have shied away from the food of the south. Well this was about to change.
The menu is pretty short, which is how I like it. Makes sense for the kitchen, but it is varied enough to get a good idea that the kitchen can do some magic back there.
I was so tempted and kinda regret not going for the veggie street snacks, or the paneer pakora. Instead we opted for some pappadoms with the house pickles. Boring I know, but I like them and I’m a creature of habit.
This was the one thing I missed after that mental hotel visiting trip through India last year, was the extent and quality of the pickles available even at the simplest hole in the wall up to the plushest hotel restaurant in India.
Here at Ganapati was no different, The 4 pickles and chutneys were all damn good. The coriander and coconut chutney shone as the best. So refreshing,
It had been an age since I last had a Thali, and today I was gonna go for the classic. Unfortunately it was not served up on a banana leaf, as is the custom in the south. That would have been messy.

It was a good combo on the platter. I chose the chicken curry, which came with a lovely thick daal, a tart rasam (that I first got the taste for in Burma of all places), a simple salad and a cooling raita.
This was a good selection and al the dishes were cooked really well. Good seasoning with the spices. It reminded me of being back in India.
The wife had the Guinea Fowl Masala. The leg and breast cooked in a rich and earthy masala sauce. Damn it was good. The fowl was cooked well and was still juicy. Nice dish.
We also shared a paratha, even though both dishes came with rice. I just love breads. This sadly was not a great paratha,  it wasn’t as good as I was hoping it to be. Maybe I’ve just been spoilt by working for an Indian family owned company, who have a guy working for them who makes the best paratha on the planet. OK maybe a slight over exaggeration but they are bloody good, especially his aloo paratha. Ramjeevan I salute you.

We were too full to tackle desert, but because of Diwalli we’ve been laden down with sweets for the last week or so. I can’t eat anymore of them.
I’m a happy man, not only has the memory of a bad meal the night before washed from me, but I think I have found my new favourite Indian restaurant, after my beloved Green Chilli in Hammersmith had to close over a year ago due to a fire gutting the place. Not sure if it will ever reopen. Looking at the boarded front, me thinks not. But we live in hope.
All that is irrelevant now, as Ganapati is now my new number one. The only problem is, as I live in Stoke Newington, it’s not really a place we can just pop out to, unlike all you lucky folk who happen to live close by. These trips will have to be preplanned, but until Ganapati decide to relocate north or we move south, then Abi Ruchi is my close by pop in joint. Sadly the food is not in the same class though. 

Ganapati on Urbanspoon