Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Off The Blog 2

Here's another round-up of some places that I enjoyed 'off the blog'. As with my previous round-up, these are places that I liked but for one reason or another, I didn't give them the full blog treatment.

Despite living all my life in Britain, I'm pretty ambivalent to the charms of the native cuisine. I guess it's because I grew up eating home cooked Chinese food and my experiences of school dinners nearly put me off British food for life. That and an intolerance to some dairy products means that I can never enjoy gwei-chaan, in the same way as a gweilo can. A weird side effect of my upbringing is that I view British food with a degree of exoticism, which means I like it as a change from my usual diet of rice and noodles.

For 'a decent British', Canteen, where I had a breakfast of bacon, eggs and bubble & squeak at their Royal Festival Hall branch, is none too shabby. A special mention goes to their front of house as they dealt with a long delay caused by a table number mix-up with courtesy and charm. I almost felt guilty in accepting my breakfast for free. They were indirectly rewarded as I went to their Baker St branch for lunch, which I preferred to their breakfast. I really enjoyed my pint of prawns, smoked haddock w/mash, and apple crumble. My dining companions also liked their kippers, pies, and cheese plate although they reckon it wasn't as good as the best home cooked British food.

Whilst I liked Canteen, the best 'British' I've been to this year is Medcalf whose pig cheeks, parsnip & bramley apple is one of the finest starters I've eaten since I started blogging. As the Chinese are the masters of duck, I usually avoid it in places like this but the barbary duck, rosti & wild mushrooms was a winner too. Dessert in the form of Bakewell tart was in danger of giving British food a good name! With an ever-changing seasonal menu, I definitely recommend making a trip to this restaurant that's located in Clerkenwell's Exmouth Market. 

Canteen Baker Street  on Urbanspoon Canteen
Medcalf on Urbanspoon Medcalf

Now I don't know whether it was because she felt sorry at my indifferent soup noodle experience there or whether it was because she caught me casting envious glances at her bibimbap but Catty kindly invited me to Koba for a Korean BBQ. Joining us was The London Foodie and Dr G and we all enjoyed the BBQ including bulgogi (sirloin slices), kalbi (beef short rib) and baby octopus. 

It isn't just about the BBQ here and whilst I left the most of the ordering to the others, I did insist on the pajun, as this seafood pancake is one of my favourites. It was very good here and not at all greasy but for a more 'grown-up' starter, I really liked the yook hwei. Raw beef and pear with a raw egg cracked on top may sound rank but it was surprisingly delicious. I can fully understand why Catty lives here eats here all the time.

Koba is in the foodie paradise of Fitzrovia, where most foodie needs are catered for on Rathbone St and Charlotte St. But if you’re not in the mood for Korean then I 'kind of' recommend nearby Fino for tapas. I say 'kind of' because I think the subterranean dining room is over-lit and the bar looks like it belongs in a nondescript business hotel. Most of this can be forgiven by its superior tapas of which my favourites include; grilled octopus, Spanish cold meat platter, and tuna tatar. I'm still a little undecided about this place and it's also bloody expensive.

Koba on Urbanspoon Koba
Fino on Urbanspoon Fino

To round off this edition of 'Off The Blog', I'm recalling a late January night when I ended up going for a pit-stop part way through a stag night. That's what I've become, even when I'm seven sheets to the wind, I’m thinking about the blog. Noodle Bar is on Cranbourne St inbetween the twin hells of Leicester Square and Covent Garden and their USP is their Lanzhou-style hand pulled noodles aka la-mian.

I stood transfixed watching the noodle maker convert a block of dough into la-mian to go into a bowl of soup with roast duck. Sadly, the duck was a bit tired and the soup was full of MSG but frankly standards are lower when you're pissed so I didn't really care at the time. Besides the noodles were the best tasting work of art, I've eaten in a long time.

The other guys I was with couldn't wait for a bowl of noodles so they went for a selection from the buffet counter where lurid sweet and sour pork and other take-away classics lurked. I must confess I went for a giant spring roll whose greasiness soaked up yet more of the booze. For a proper assessment, I need to come back here when I'm able to walk in a straight line.


  1. Nice round up post! Canteen at Royal Festival Hall ... is it like INSIDE the hall? I've never seen Canteen there before!! Must keep my eyes peeled. As for Koba well, I need not say anything I'm sure :) And la mian, as dodgy as they sound I sometimes hit up Noodle Oodle for la mian. The service is APPALLING but the fresh pulled noodles are so fresh they still taste dough-y. I LOVE IT.

  2. I had a disappointing meal at Canteen but I have their cookbook now and am quite enjoying the recipes so maybe it was a one off. Enjoy the off the blog eating!

  3. Catty - Canteen is round the back of the RFH. I've not been to Noodle Oodle since it changed name from Inn Noodle but you're right they also do decent la-mian. And thanks again for showing me the light on Koba.

    GC - it could well be that Canteen were having a bad day as I can't quite understand how they could cock up the actual food as it's not that complicated.

  4. Great round up, I think the "Off the Blog" series is an excellent idea. Never been to Canteen even thought there is one near our place in Spitafields, but had been meaning to go to Medcalf for a while(apparently it is a converted old butcher's shop and it looks amazing), I will make sure to visit it after your review. Koba was also very good, and Catty ordered perfectly. I would love to go back there to have their raw beef and pear dish which was for me the highlight of the evening (apart from the entertaining company of course)!

  5. LF - Medcalf is great and I felt like a total idiot when I worked out two years had passed since my previous visit. BTW - forgot to mention that they also do take-away burgers from an outdoor bbq.

  6. I love la mian! Have to come to London to check out the noodle bar.