Saturday, 1 November 2014

Crocker's Folly: new kid on the block

Crocker's Folly tavern
Recently opened Crocker's Folly isn't exactly the new kid on the block - the building dates back to the late 1800s - but it certainly feels like it. It has been empty for an age and more recently boarded up while undergoing a loving and painstaking renovation which has restored the venue to glory. As you'd expect from the Maroush Group, purveyors of (good) Lebanese food up and down Edgware Road and pockets further afield, there is an element of bling in details like the impossibly-light chandelier and the well-buffed marble that greets you at every turn. It all has a shiny new feel to it. The food is polished as well, with the menu devised by a talented chef who has worked in some serious kitchens like Pollen St Social and noma. But the investment in the rooms and the food comes at a cost, with prices that I consider punchy for a neighbourhood spot. So, is it all fur coat and no knickers?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Kyoto travels: noodling about with Ramen at Ippudo, Soba at Misoka-an and Udon at Omen

Ippudo ramen, Kyoto
I don't know about you but I reckon certain types of noodles have personalities. On my scale, soba is the introverted quiet one in the corner of a crowded room having a peaceful conversation, while in the middle of the party, ripping off its shirt, chugging beers and generally in everyone's face is ramen. Subtle couldn't be further from the truth. Udon is somewhere between these two extremes with a generally mellow vibe but is quite open to being led astray. Although I lean toward soba and udon most of the time, I was so excited to be in Kyoto that our first meal there really had to be a steaming bowl of ramen from Ippudo. On other days I enjoyed an excellent cleansing soba in the terrific machi-ya of Misako-an and a stunning udon at Omen, a short stray from the Philosopher's Path on the way to the Silver Pavillion. All come highly recommended on any trip to Kyoto.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Barrafina Covent Garden: it's flantastic

Barrafina Adelaide St: instant classic Bocadillo de Calamar
You've never really needed me to tell you to go to Barrafina have you? It's a given. When it opened on Frith St it was an instant classic. On one of my visits, Keira Knightley was in there chowing down on quail. Who'd of thunk it eh? She eats. Clearly then, that should be recommendation enough - if it's good enough for someone who probably only eats a meal a week, then it's definitely good enough for those of us who aren't perpetually hungry. The only problem with Barrafina is that it became a victim of its own success. I've seen people queue before it even opened just to score one of the stools, meaning my visits became more sporadic. I'm not good with paramilitary planning when it comes to food. Joyfully, they've decided to share the Barrafina love and open a second location, which miraculously, improves on the experience at the big sister.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Kyoto travels: Fushimi Inari shrine and Unagi at Nezameya

Nezameya - grilled eel specialist near Fushimi Inari Shrine
The Fushimi Inari shrine is one of the most iconic images of Kyoto. Row after row of vermillion Torii, tightly packed and stretching up Mount Inari draw the tourist crowds for good reason. It's a must see and was one of the reasons why I planned a visit to Kyoto in the first place. It's possible to leave the crowds behind you if you wind your way further and further up the sacred mountain but it's not an easy climb, and on a warm day make sure you take something to drink. One of the benefits of climbing the stairs up the mountain is that you'll work up quite an appetite. Walking to the shrine from Inari train station, you'll pass a number of tempting restaurants but the one that caught my eye was Nezameya - the smell and smoke from the long fillets of eel being grilled on the street drew me over.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Unforgettable Shoraian, Arashiyama Japan

Shoraian yudofu
If you're visiting Kyoto (and you really must), then Arashiyama just west of the city should also be on your itinerary. The setting by the Hozu River is tranquil once you get away from the busy, and a bit touristy, main street, even in the midst of the masses around cherry blossom season. The world famous Bamboo Forest casting its haunting green glow into the sky is there, along with the stunningly serene Tenryuji Temple. You might know that Kyoto has a reputation for some of the finest tofu in Japan, and hey presto, Arashiyama can help you out there too. Shoraian (also Syourian), nestled on the side of a mountain a short walk from the main street, specialises in tofu but it's not vegetarian. The location, food and service at Shoraian contributed to one of the most memorable meals of my trip to Kyoto.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Hing Kee in Hong Kong

Hing Kee: Typhoon Shelter Crab
I really think you need local knowledge when looking for places to eat in Asia so I'm here to give you some. Hing Kee in Hong Kong (has quite a ring to it dontcha think?) is one of the best restaurants that you probably don't know about. I'm not a HK local but I tapped into the taste buds of the best there when I had a short stopover en route to Japan on a recent holiday. I came across Hing Kee via a HK-based Instagrammer that I follow (hey Little Meg!) who went there with some friends and had what looked like an incredible meal. I saw some pics of an amazing crab dish that just screamed, "eat me"! It's really my kind of food - hearty Cantonese with big flavours that really leave an impression (and I'm not just talking about the garlic with that crab). Sensing my enthusiasm, Little Meg reserved us a table and even ordered the meal in advance and I'm eternally grateful since Hing Kee is definitely not geared for tourists.

Rotorino: west meets east

Rotorino: Buffalo mozzarella, smashed broad beans, mint
I don't often find myself in East London these days and it generally takes a bit to convince me that the hour travel is worth it. Don't get me wrong, I watch the constant string of restaurant openings with a tinge of jealousy and a mental note for the "must visit one day" list which is ever-lengthening, but then remind myself why I moved west and enjoy the relative quiet of my leafy street rather than the smog and grit of the Kingsland Road. Anyway, a sudden craving for bread from Fabrique after a recent trip to Sweden, et voilĂ  I'm back in the thick of it. Rotorino has a decent pedigree with Stevie Parle from the Dock Kitchen (and time at the River Cafe - hooray for West London!) behind the food, which has a Southern Italian bent to it. Think of great ingredients with a light touch and you're pretty much there.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

A Wong: Not Your Grandma's Chinese

A Wong: Quail egg croquette puff
You have to love what's going on at A Wong.  It's not often you get an utterly original take on traditional Chinese dim sum that, more often than not, works. This is Chinese food rooted in tradition, but taken up more than one notch. It's definitely not your Grandma's dim sum (if your grandma was Chinese that is, which mine is not, but you know what I mean). I went in early January to meet up with some Instagram chums from Denmark and we ordered a decent chunk of the dim sum menu which is only available at lunch. It's a fairly small venue but we snagged a table by the window looking out onto Wilton Road, which is only a 5 minute walk from Victoria station. It's not the most atmospheric of locations but make the trek from Chinatown and you're bound to have a fine meal.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Honey & Co: Eating Against the Clock

Honey & Co: Merguez sausage roll, fried egg, harissa
I really don't know what happened when I went to Honey & Co for brunch on Monday, but it was a huge disappointment. I've not read a bad word about the place and had high expectations but the breakfast menu that faced me that morning was so uninspiring. I expected fragrant baked eggs rivalling the lovely shakshuka at Nopi, or some unknown-to-me-but-super-tasty new discovery.  Sadly it fell well short. No shakshuka on the menu, and nothing eye-poppingly inspiring. Even our waitress recommended we come back for the lunch menu which she said was better. Probably, but I'm not really in a hurry. Speaking of time management, here's a funny story.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Chinese New Year Recipes: Dong Po Rou and DPR Sliders

Dong Po Rou
This recipe was given to me by a Taiwanese colleague (hey Cindy!) when I asked what I should cook for a Chinese New Year gathering. It's her mum's version of Dong Po Rou, a braised pork belly, which is a dish that's typically served around Chinese New Year, although it's so good that I'll be eating it much more frequently than once a year. It's low maintenance food that, like all good dishes, relies on good quality ingredients. There's very little in the way of preparation and if you cook a fair amount of Chinese food, you're likely to have most of the cupboard ingredients on hand. I'd suggest trying to find Taiwanese rice wine instead of the Chinese Shao-Hsing which I think has a stronger taste that might overpower the dish. The Taiwanese wine is clear instead of the amber colour in most Chinese versions.

I've also given a recipe for using up any leftovers, but these sliders are so good that you'll probably want to make the pork just for these incredibly moreish little mouthfuls. It was a happy accident really - I went to the Chinese supermarket thinking I'd recreate the Momofuko pork bao but I could only find small mantau buns in the freezer, so went with that. Actually, I think the buns work best in small mouthfuls since the ratio of pork and other ingredients to bun is better. Whichever way you choose to use the pork you're really going to love this.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Dabbous: is it still worth the wait?

Dabbous: Smoked Halibut and Pickled Celeriac
Dabbous is still one of the hardest tables in London to secure. If you search the website for a prime time slot a month from now, you'll be told there are no tables within the next eight weeks and probably just give up. The reason for the supply/demand mismatch is that it's a relatively small room with a little more than a handful of tables meaning demand remains high two years after it opened. I went to Dabbous shortly after it opened, but the week before Fay bestowed a glowing five stars on it, and have never been able to get another table since without planning more than six months ahead. Frankly, I'd given up ever eating there again too. But one good turn on my part (an invite to join me at Sushi Tetsu) was repaid with reservations at Dabbous. See? Karma is a beautiful thing people, so be nice to each other out there.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Tommi's Burger Joint: my favourite cheeseburger in London

Tommi's Burger Joint cheeseburger
You know a picture tells a thousand words right? Well if you take a looksee over there at that cheeseburger from Tommi's Burger Joint in Marylebone, I could probably finish this post right now. I'll go on though (but hopefully not for a thousand words). It looks delicious doesn't it? You just want to eat it and savour every glistening, juicy, cheesy mouthful. You might be able to tell that I like Tommi's a lot. While you could get lost in the burgeoning Bermuda burger triangle just north of Oxford Street, I'd like to resurface at Tommi's over MEATLiquor and Patty & Bun any day. The venue is light and bright (looking at you ML) and I prefer the Tommi's bun over that of the P&B crew. But if there's a food that polarises people more than any, I reckon it's a burger, given the many variables involved in its construction, so feel free to disagree.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Jackson + Rye: stick to brunch

Jackson + Rye: Scrambled eggs
You would never know that Satsuma (RIP) was once on the site of Jackson + Rye. The sterile white and utilitarian wood (or latterly gaudy orange pods) has been swapped for darker woods, leather banquettes and muted mood lighting. The whole layout has been swapped around as well. Whereas Satsuma had the enormous elbow to elbow shared tables in the basement, JR's downstairs is now just a small - always empty - dining room next to the bogs and a large kitchen. Most of the action happens upstairs with the beautiful bar the focus of the venue. I say RIP to Satsuma, because it was one of the places I frequented when I first lived in London back in the late 90s. I also saw one of my favourite actors eating there - Rupert Graves (who played Freddy in A Room With a View dontchaknow) around the time he was on the stage in Hurly Burly. Anyway, I digress. You want to know about JR (good for brunch, less so for dinner, no need to read more I guess mainly because my pics are a bit rubbish this time sorry) and not my filmic proclivities.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Recipe: Lobster Noodles in XO sauce

We happened to be in the supermarket the other day and the fishmonger had an offer of two frozen Maine lobster tails for a tenner. What the heck, we thought, and bought them thinking it would make a change from conjuring another use for leftover New Year's Eve roast beef. On the way home, I was thinking of what to do with the lobster and vaguely recollected a recipe for lobster with XO sauce, which is a classic Cantonese preparation. XO sauce is one of those condiments that I've become slightly addicted to. The flavour is compellingly unique and somewhat difficult to describe but the combination of the heat from the chilli and the texture from the dried scallops is ethereal. It's a great standby to have in the fridge for throwing into stir fries or dressing some steamed tofu.

I make no claim to authenticity with this recipe but it's an impressive and indulgent meal for two. It leaves you with a beautiful lingering flavour with the heat from the XO complimented by the sweetness of the lobster meat and the stir fried onions. I used scallop flavoured noodles because I had them on hand and thought the flavour would go well with the lobster. When I posted the photo of the completed dish on Instagram, it generated more comments than any other photo there, so I'm sure you'll impress yourself and others too. If you don't have any lobster, I think the recipe would work just as well with green prawns, or even chicken or pork.