Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Noodle Shorts 4

I know it's juvenile but I couldn't resist taking a photo! But it isn't my fault; blame the Wing Tai Supermarket in Brixton for stocking Cock Flavour Soup Mix. Although I found this spicy noodle soup base in a Chinese supermarket, it's actually Jamaican in origin. Out of curiosity, has anyone tried this?

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Tapas @ Barrica

What is it about the letter B and Spanish food in London? Be it Barrafina, Brindisa, or the subject of this post, Barrica, all the good places seem to begin with the letter B. And true to form, Barrica is bloody good. Of the eleven or so tapas we sampled, there wasn't a single duff dish, which is unusual for a tapas joint.

Jamon Iberico Cebo (grain & acorn-fed ham)
Esparragos frecos (asparagus w/Manchego cheese)
Pierna de cerdo (grilled pork leg)
Albondigas (meatballs) and croquetas pescado (salt cod croquettes) 
Whilst naming a favourite dish is difficult, I can recommend perusing the Tapas del Dia (daily specials), as there's some seriously good stuff on there such as the pierna de cerdo (grilled pork leg w/paprika & garlic) and the esparragos fresco (asparagus w/Manchego cheese). Of those tapas not pictured, the pulpo a la Gallega (Galician-style octopus) and the patatas bravas are must orders.

There's a lot to like about Barrica, with its buzzy atmosphere and genuinely warm service. Although the bill came to £140 (including 12.5% service) between the three of us, it was good value given that we sampled eleven tapas, two bottles of red and a small bottle of sherry. Strip out the booze, and you can eat really well for around £25/head.

Barrica on Urbanspoon

Barrica, 62 Goodge Street, London, W1T 4NE
(Tel: 020-7436-9448) Nearest tube: Goodge St

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Dinner @ Paolina Thai Café

I can't speak for all food bloggers but a welcome side effect of my hobby is the number of requests I receive from friends to check out different eateries. One such request was from the Mysterious Mrs A to try the Paolina Thai Café. Also joining us was El Greco, and as Paolina does BYO so did a welcome fourth guest, a bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc.

I wasn't over enamoured with the deep-fried starters of wontons and corn cakes, especially as the latter consisted mainly of batter. The garlicky steamed kanom jeep dumplings were better but the pick of the starters was a particularly spicy poh tak soup that came with plenty of seafood. I much prefer this cleaner hot and sour soup to the ubiquitous tom yum.

Moving onto the mains, I thought the kang mussamun (beef mussamun curry) was too sweet, and I preferred the kang dang gai (green chicken curry). The Mysterious Mrs A was a fan of the moo kratiem prik tai (stir-fried marinated pork w/garlic, pepper and coriander), which was very flavoursome. I wonder what they put in the marinade?

However for me, the stars of the evening were the side dishes. The papaya based som tum salad is one of my fave Thai dishes and this zingy version was a real winner. But even better was the pad Thai – one of the better renditions that I've come across in London. Unlike many renditions of this dish, this one wasn't too sweet.

Paolina is dirt-cheap – none of the dishes we ordered cost more than £5.90. Our bill with rice and a generous tip came to around £60 or £20 per head, but that's only because we over ordered – an inevitable side effect of blogging! For normal appetites, you can eat well for between £10 and £15 per head.

This place is tiny and is very much a caff rather than a restaurant, but I think that adds to the charm. Service was efficient and unobtrusive with that customary Thai charm. Whilst Paolina isn't going to challenge to be London's best Thai, it's far from the worse. Should you find yourself in the vicinity, it's well worth a visit, especially as it does BYO!

Paolina Snack Bar on Urbanspoon

Paolina Thai Café, 181 Kings Cross Rd, London, WC1X 9BZ
(Tel: 020-7278-8176) Nearest stations: Kings Cross, St Pancras

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

My Other Gaff's Got Two Michelin Stars

Whenever a big name chef puts their name to a new venture, be wary, be very wary. Either the original restaurant that made the chef famous suffers from neglect, or the new joint doesn't live up to the inevitable hype. This is the very problem facing Claude Bosi, the two Michelin starred chef at Hibiscus. He's opted to leave the running of his newish pub, the Fox and Grapes, to his brother, Cedric. That's probably the right decision but would diners at the Fox and Grapes feel a little short changed? Well there's only one way to find out...

We spurned proper starters but did share a Scotch egg and a basket of bread & butter. Although Scotch eggs are becoming a bit ubiquitous, this was a superior version, with the wild boar sausagemeat lending it a gamey flavour. The bread was superb too, nice and fresh from the oven.

My Cornish pollock with leeks, greens and an egg in a mushroom vinaigrette was perfectly executed but it failed to excite me. I've come to the conclusion that like many environmentally sound options, pollock is a bit boring. My mate's Cumberland sausage and mash was again well made but at the end of the day, it was bangers and mash.

The only slightly bum note of the meal were the triple-cooked chips that turned out more like potato wedges. When the triple-cooked tag is attached to the humble chip, they had better be out of this world. These weren't.

Although the Fox and Grapes is a pub, it feels more like a bistro or a restaurant than a boozer. And that's also the case with the prices; starters are around the £8 mark with mains around the £15 mark. Our bill came to £60 between two with a bottle of water, two pints of bitter and 12.5% service. Given how busy it was, service was good enough, although I was initially hacked off that they had no record of our lunch reservation.

There's nothing wrong with the Fox and Grapes; the food is of a generally high standard, but it's just too simple. Perhaps my expectations are unrealistic, what with the Claude Bosi connection, but the menu lacks a little bit of magic in my opinion. You could argue that it's a pub, and that it serves pub food, but the prices, the pedigree, and the ambience left me wanting more.

As I don't live too far away, I will be back. Besides, there's a paucity of quality places to eat out in Wimbledon. But for those of you not local to southwest London, I wouldn't bother making the journey.

Fox & Grapes on Urbanspoon

Fox and Grapes, 9 Camp Road, Wimbledon Common, London, SW19 4UN

(Tel: 020-8619-1300)
Nearest station: Wimbledon (then take a taxi or the 93 bus towards Putney)

Friday, 13 May 2011

Fuzhou Cuisine @ New Aroma

Of the myriad regional schools of Chinese cuisine that have arrived on Britain's shores in the past decade, one that is grossly underrepresented is the food of Fujian province, in particular that of its capital, Fuzhou (福州). Especially when you consider that many of the workers in Britain's Chinese restaurants (irrespective of style) come from the Fuzhou area.

Whilst New York's Manhattan Chinatown has many Fuzhou restaurants, they are less common in London. But that's not to say that they don't exist, as there's the Fuzhou Restaurant on Lisle Street and the venue for the meal featured in this post, New Aroma on Gerrard Street.

One of the best-known Fuzhou dishes is fishball soup (魚丸湯 yu wan tang), which is one of those dishes that transcends its roots and can be found in non-Fuzhou eateries. Fuzhou fishballs differ from normal ones by having a ground pork filling. Unlike many restaurant fishballs, these were 'own-made' and all the better for it.

It seem that balls loom large in Fuzhou cuisine, as evidenced by the sweet potato balls (蕃薯丸 fan shu wan) – these were another favourite of mine. The filling of ground pork and seaweed was damn good, and it came with a tasty broth with rice vermicelli (米粉 mi fen).

Other classic Fuzhou dishes include lychee pork (荔枝肉 li zhi rou), a sweet and sour style pork dish, so-called because the pork pieces looks like lychees. Other favourite dishes from the evening include eel in red wine lees (紅糟鰻魚 hong zao man yu), and a seafood noodle dish, whose Chinese name escapes me.

Incidentally, New Aroma also serves Cantonese food (both the real stuff and the Anglicised variant) as well as Sichuan food. Whilst these menus are in English and Chinese, the Fuzhou menu is in Chinese only. Our servers were helpful and they will probably help translate the Fuzhou menu, if you ask nicely.

Being a bit of a food trainspotter, I enjoyed sampling a cuisine, that other than Fuzhou fishballs, I hadn't really tried before. So I'd like to thank Limster, he of Chowhound fame, for deciphering the Chinese menu and ordering so adeptly, and Kake for organising the gathering.

If you want to know more about this restaurant and Fuzhou food (let's face it, my reviews are pretty half-arsed nowadays) then check out this Chowhound thread and the write-up on the Randomness Guide. For more photos of the food, check out this flickr stream.

New Aroma on Urbanspoon

New Aroma, 11 Gerrard St, London, W1D 5PP (Tel: 020-7287-6478)
Nearest tube: Leicester Square

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Brixton Treats - Guyana Roti & Chorizo Colombiano

The Indian influence on how the world eats can be illustrated by the popularity of roti. From its Indian origins, roti has become a firm favourite in places as far apart as Malaysia and Guyana, so much so that it's considered a national dish in both these countries.

I'm quite familiar with Malaysian roti canai but until recently I'd never tried the Guyanese version. And nor was I likely to until I stumbled across a bright blue caravan in the shadow of Brixton Recreation Centre. Sadly, Guyana Roti was closed when I first came across it, but I made a mental note to return.

And I'm glad I did. For a mere £4, I tucked into chicken curry with roti. The soft flaky roti was a fine accompaniment to the hot and spicy chicken curry. The chicken was on the bone, just how I like it (one thing I'll never understand is why so many people prefer bland chicken breast meat off the bone). Before the roti was plated up, it was put in a plastic container and given a good shake. Why is this done?  My guess is that's how the roti is folded but can anyone confirm this?

Other choices include goat curry, pumpkin curry, and jerk chicken, which are served with either rice or roti. None of the dishes cost more than a fiver, and there are a couple of tables outside the caravan if you want to 'eat-in'. If you love street food then you really ought to check out this stall.

Having finished my roti, I went for a stroll around Brixton Village, which is turning into quite a foodie mecca. There are loads of decent looking cafés and restaurants in this covered market that I'd like to check out. I was particularly intrigued by some of the South American eateries but these would have to wait for another day.

In the meantime, I satiated my curiosity by buying some chorizo Colombiano from Carniceria Los Andes. This Colombian sausage consists of coarsely ground pork and beef with quite a bit of fat. The amiable butcher kindly passed on some tips on how to cook these beasts; he recommends bunging them in the oven at gas mark 4 (180C for electric ovens) until golden brown.

I followed these instructions, and they turned out a treat! These sausages are very juicy and quite garlicky. I'm not sure what other seasonings are used in chorizo Colombiano but who cares? All you need to know is that this is one mighty fine tasting sausage. Highly recommended.

Guyana Roti, Brixton Station Road, London, SW9 8PD

Carniceria Los Andes, 13 Brixton Village, Coldharbour Lane, London, SW9 8PR

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Off The Blog 5 - Asia in London

I haven't done one of these round-ups in ages, but that's not to say I haven't been eating well 'off the blog'! For example, in this post, I'm checking out posh sushi, authentic spicy Thai and a neighbourhood Vietnamese restaurant.

I don't mind lunching on my own, but I seldom go for anything too fancy. I usually have a fry-up, maybe a burger, the occasional Nando's, or a bowl of noodles. But every now and then, I want to lunch alone in style. Why? To quote the famous French philosopher, L'Oréal – it's because I'm worth it.

Which is why I pitched up at Yashin Sushi, and went for their Hajimeteno Omakase set lunch (£20). This included posh fish such as sea bass, yellowtail and tuna, as well as salad and some miso soup in a bone china teacup. In all honesty, I can't remember if any of the sushi had been blow-torched but regardless, it was excellent. I was particularly impressed by how expertly the chef had seasoned the sushi.

So it was a bit of a shame that the overall experience was marred by one of the waiters, who was extremely unsubtle in his attempts at upselling. In the unlikely event that he is reading this post, I'd like to offer him the following advice:

1) When taking a drinks order, don't open with 'would you like still or sparkling water?'

2) If someone has just ordered a £20 set lunch, don't ask 'will that be all?' - especially if you're not going to offer any suggestions.

3) At the end of a meal, just ask 'would you like anything else?' rather than 'would you like more sushi, or perhaps some dessert?'

Yashin Sushi on Urbanspoon

Yashin Sushi, 1A Argyll Road, London, W8 7DB (Tel: 020-7938-1536)
Nearest tube: High Street Kensington

Quality authentic Thai food can be hard to find in London, so minutes after clapping eyes on The Skinny Bib's review of @Siam, I made arrangements to meet a friend there for dinner. Following the lead of The Skinny Bib, who incidentally has the inside track on London's best Thai eateries, we ordered the Northern Set (£15.95). This consists of green chilli relish (really hot), herb sausage (the star of the evening), pork curry (really bloody spicy), sticky rice, and posh pork scratchings (dead good for dipping into the curry). A real winner if you like it hot.

We also ordered the E-Sarn Set (£15.95), which consists of spicy minced chicken ground rice (a very tasty Thai basil infused larb gai), Thai papaya salad (a very refreshing som tam), grilled sirloin (sadly overcooked), and sticky rice. The two sets complemented one another well, as the E-sarn set was a cooling counterpart to the fiery Northern set. We also ordered some mhee krob (£5.75) – these crispy rice noodles were a tad too sweet on their own, but fine in the context of the meal.

Overall, dinner at @Siam just fell short of true greatness, as the belly pork in the curry wasn't unctuous enough and the sirloin was a tad overcooked. Having said that, there's a lot to like about this Soho restaurant, from its superior service to its uncompromising stance on spicing. Highly recommended.

@Siam on Urbanspoon

@Siam, 48 Frith Street, London, W1D 4SF (Tel: 020-7494-4511)
Nearest tubes: Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road

I first came across Me Me when playing with the 'fruit machine' on the Urbanspoon app on my phone. You know, the one that randomly selects restaurants when you shake your phone. After a quick look at Me Me's website, I just knew I had to check out this intimate Vietnamese joint.

I ordered off the special lunch menu, which serves up two courses and a drink for £10.50. As I wasn't in the mood for summer rolls (gỏi cuốn), I started with spring rolls (chả giò) and followed with a bowl of beef pho (phở bò).

The spring rolls were OK, but next time I think I'll try the summer rolls. The pho, though, was damn tasty with a strong aromatic stock, bouncy rice noodles and an abundant helping of beef (mainly well done flank with some just-cooked fillet). My only complaint was the meagre size of the side plate of herbs and beansprouts.

On the evidence of their noodles, Me Me is of a decent enough standard for those of us with a W in our postcode not to have to schlep across town to 'The Pho Mile'. To put it another way, their pho isn't as good as what many believe to be London's best but it's a damn sight better than some I've sampled.

Another thing that endears me to this restaurant is their colour-coded menu, which highlights authentic Vietnamese dishes in green. This means you can filter out the generic stir-fries and concentrate on ordering the real McCoy – something that I'll be sure to do on future visits.

{Update 13 May - I returned here for dinner with some other blogger types, and to be honest, it was a tad disappointing. This is more a place for a bowl of pho rather than a big Vietnamese blow-out.}

Me Me on Urbanspoon

Me Me, 565 Fulham Road, London, SW6 1ES (Tel: 020-7381-1100)
Nearest tube: Fulham Broadway

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Best Festival Food Ever...

Good festival food is not an oft-heard phrase. I'm sure you're already forming a picture of a dodgy burger van selling botulism in a bun. So you can imagine my shock when I saw a gleaming made-to-order pizza stall at the Cheltenham Festival.

As I walked closer, I could see fresh pizza dough being rolled, toppings applied, and pizzas being shoved in and out of an oven with a paddle. It was a proper oven too, one with flames. After placing my order of a pepperoni & jalapeño pizza, I waited no more than 5 minutes to be served a quality pizza.

It wasn't too much of a rip-off either at £7. I'd even go so far to say that it's better than Pizza Express (not hard I know) and compares favourably with the blogsensus pizza of choice at Franco Manca.

So on a day when the bookies did rather well out of me, I was relieved to have picked at least one winner!