Sunday, 25 November 2012

Rock 'N' Roll Ramen @ Bone Daddies

It'd be fair to say my first impressions of Bone Daddies weren't great. The background music had become foreground music, and was being played at a volume usually only heard when the CIA are trying to force a Latin American dictator to surrender. If anything my predicament was worse than General Noriega's, as the playlist was largely cock rock. This, to someone who's more Stone Roses than Guns 'N' Roses, felt like hell on earth.

The thing about music, though, is that it's even more divisive than food. I had some twitter exchanges with @BoneDaddiesRBar about his choice of tunes. We agreed to disagree, and it was left with an invite to me to say hi the next time I popped in so that he could outline what he wanted to do with Bone Daddies, and how the music fitted in with his vision. More on that later, as this is a food blog, not a music blog!

The food was mercifully better than the music. On my first visit I just had to order the tonkotsu ramen (£11) that I pimped up with a fat pipette and some nori. I was impressed. The toppings of chashu pork, menma, beansprouts, fried garlic and egg were good quality and, compared to its rivals, also generous of portion. However, the broth wasn't quite there for a tonkotsu although the pipette of fat gave it extra porkiness. And in my opinion, it could've done with a lot more broth. I also checked out the fried chicken (£5). This also showed promise, but it needed some Kewpie mayo on the side. (Memo to all Japanese places in London, serve your kara-age fried chicken with Kewpie mayo on the side, please!)

I returned later that week for a second visit. This time it was for lunch, so thankfully the music wasn't quite as loud. Moreover, there were a few tunes from The Clash and The Doors, which was more agreeable to my picky discerning ears. Onto the food, and I wanted to explore the menu a bit more so I went for the T22 ramen (£9) with a side of Yellowtail sashimi (£9). The latter was top quality, and I'm glad they went with a superior fish for their sashimi offering rather than boring old salmon. I also enjoyed the flavoursome chicken broth-based T22 soy ramen with its strands of moist pulled chicken. But what really made this dish was the topping of cock scratchings that gave it that extra filth factor. After all, what's not to love about bits of fried chicken skin!

After the meal, I asked to say hi to @BoneDaddiesRBar, who turned to be Ross Shonhan, the guy behind Bone Daddies. We carried on our chat about music, and he explained how the music is an important part of what Bone Daddies is all about. To that end, he'd put together a playlist of 'classic rock' with no tunes from after 1992. Regarding the playlist, I think there could be a bit more flexibility (i.e. he really ought to slap on bands I like on there) but at the end of the day, it's his gaff, not mine.

After chatting about the music, we moved on to a more important matter: the food. By his own admission, Ross wasn't too happy with some of the early versions of the tonkotsu broth, but he was excited about the new one. So much so, he invited me into the kitchen to show me. I didn't taste it, but just by the look of it, I knew it was an improvement. That's because this tonkotsu was, in common with the upper echelons of the Tory party, rich and thick with a milky complexion. A mental note was made to check it out.

And so on to my most recent visit, when I tried the latest version of the tonkotsu ramen. I purposefully ordered it as it was i.e. with no pimpage, and I have to say it's quite possibly one of the best bowls of ramen I've had in London. The broth was rich and had a nice porky depth. I haven't really spoken of the actual noodles thus far in this review, and that's because they have been, on all my visits, of decent quality, and not overcooked. And I was also pleased to see a slight increase in the volume of broth in the bowl, although it could still have done with more.

Bone Daddies is a worthy addition to the fast-evolving London ramen scene. While I need to properly check out Shoryu Ramen as well as revisit other contenders, for now, I reckon Bone Daddies offers the most complete bowl of tonkotsu ramen in London. Whether it's as good as the noodles in Tokyo is another matter, but it's a moot point given Soho is closer to home than Shinjuku. There are some caveats, though. If, like me, you're an irascible old git with strong views on music, it may be better to go for lunch, not dinner!

I'm going to end this review how I started it, with a few words about music. At the end of the day, my upbringing in the north west of England is far removed from Ross Shonhan's in Queensland. So it'd be fair to say we might not have the same taste in music. Having said that, I think there can be a bit more imagination in the playlist. In short, it needs a bit of Manchester. And on that note, here's a tune I think would go down a storm at Bone Daddies: I Am The Resurrection by The Stone Roses. And Ross, if you're reading this, check out the guitar solo from 3m 40s in – it's the equal of anything Jimmy Page has ever done.

Bone Daddies on Urbanspoon

Bone Daddies, 31 Peter Street, London W1F 0AR, (Tel: 020-7287-8581)
Nearest stations: Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Wu Gok 芋角 - A Dim Sum Legend

When I saw this list of Top 5 dim sum, I let off a few ai-yahs! and shook my fist angrily at my computer. It's not that any of the dim sum listed are unworthy, but limiting a must-order list to five dishes is, quite frankly, ridiculous. I mean who orders just five different varieties of dim sum when going to yum cha? Moreover, the list didn't have any deep-fried dishes. What's that all about? Who doesn't order deep-fried dim sum?

In particular, one deep fried dim sum has a special place in my heart: wu gok 芋角 (on English-language menus, these are often listed as taro croquettes or yam croquettes). These croquettes are to fried dim sum what har gau are to steamed dim sum, and along with cheung fun these three classics form the 'Holy Trinity of Dim Sum'. (Yes I am well aware how ridiculous that sentence is, but since when have I ever had a sense of proportion when it comes to food?)

Wu gok, when properly cooked, has a wonderful frilly crisp outer that gives way to a soft fluffy layer of mashed taro before yielding to a filling of ground pork and Chinese mushroom in light gravy (be warned, the filling can scold if the croquettes are fresh out of the fryer!). It is this contrast in textures that makes wu gok such a legend in my books. So the next time you are ordering dim sum, make sure the box for wu gok is ticked. After all, you wouldn't want me to go on about it like a grumpy old Chinese uncle, now would you?

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Ultimate Fried Egg Sandwich

It doesn't take much to set me off. So it should come as no surprise that I did one when I saw an article in The Guardian on how to cook the perfect fried egg. What particularly stoked my ire was the writer's cavalier dismissal of fried eggs with a crispy bottom. I still can't bloody believe Felicity Cloake likened crispy egg white to a hairball! But really, what is the point of frying an egg if you don't want a crispy egg white? If you're going to fry an egg slowly on a low heat, you might as well not bother; poach it instead.

So what's the best way to fry an egg? Well of course, it's the Asian way. I'm transporting myself to Vietnam where I enjoyed the ultimate fried egg sandwich. Think of a crispy fried egg with a runny yolk laced with chilli-infused soy sauce (although as Mimi points out below, Maggi seasoning is more likely to be used in Vietnam) inside a light airy crusty roll. If a famous brand of Danish lager did sandwiches...

To cook a crispy fried egg, heat a frying pan with a generous amount of groundnut oil until it's very, very hot. Crack an egg into the pan and watch it crisp up. Turn down the heat and spoon hot oil over the top, or alternatively flip it over very briefly before removing from the pan. Of course you can season with salt and pepper, but a few chopped chillies in soy sauce will give it that taste of the east. Unfortunately, light airy Vietnamese rolls aren't readily available in the UK, but crusty bread rolls are a decent substitute. And there you have it, a PROPER fried egg sarnie.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Pork Ramen @ Wagamama

Younger readers might be surprised that there was a time when Wagamama was fashionable. Granted, this was when Oasis released Definitely Maybe, John Major was Prime Minister and the author of this blog had just moved to London. Yes, that long ago. In those days this noodle bar was considered a pioneer, as neither Japanese food nor communal casual dining was all that common.

Nowadays, Wagamama is one of the UK's best-known chain restaurants; it's even expanded overseas (I've seen branches in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Sydney). However, popularity doesn't always equate to quality, and it'd be fair to say that the noodlescenti can be a bit sniffy about this restaurant. That's why I wasn't that keen on going there the other Saturday. But it was late, I was pissed, it was raining and my mate's wife vetoed a trip to Nando's (I was a bit indignant - Nando's is great post-session grub). So that's why after over three years (and 265 blog posts) I am finally writing about Wagamama.

I'm not sure there ever was a 'Golden Age of Wagamama' but it'd be fair to say that the food was better when there was only one restaurant with a shorter menu. To be honest I found the menu bewildering. In addition to the Japanese dishes, there were some interlopers such as pad Thai as well as some weird pan-Asian dishes that could be (kindly) described as unique. Some branches, although not the one I visited, even offer sushi. Blinded by choice, I played it safe and went for a newly introduced dish: pork ramen (£8.50).

It's all too easy to be negative about Wagamama (and chains in general) so I would like to point out that the toppings of pea shoots, wakame, menma, spring onions and half a tea-stained egg were fresh and of good quality. There was also a fair bit of barbecued pork although I can't remember much about the taste of the meat or the accompanying Korean barbecue sauce. The ramen noodles could've been springier, but I guess I should be thankful they weren't mushy. At this point, you're probably wondering this isn't a bad bowl of noodles, and as my friend pointed out I did wolf it down pretty sharpish.

However, all this good work was letdown by a lukewarm and insipid broth. I like my soup noodles to come with a steaming broth, not one that is merely tepid. It was also underseasoned and lacked depth, and despite being advertised as a miso, ginger and chicken soup, I couldn't pick out any of those flavours.

I also had a taste of a stir-fried udon dish, which I found to be too sweet (although I do concede I did eat quite a bit of this dish). With hindsight, I wish I'd ordered what my mate had: chicken katsu curry, proper dirty post-pub grub. Sides of ebi katsu (prawns in breadcrumbs) and duck gyoza dumplings were also ordered. I can't remember much about these but being a bit pissed I'm sure they hit the spot at the time.

There are many better noodle options than Wagamama, but they tend to be in central London. So when out and about after a drunken night in Richmond, I guess this noodle chain scratches an itch. It's far from great, but I wouldn't say it's so bad that it is to noodles what Ping Pong is to dim sum. And for that I guess I ought to be thankful.

Wagamama on Urbanspoon

Wagamama, 3 Hill Street, Richmond TW9 1SX (Tel: 0208-948-2224)
Nearest station: Richmond
With branches nationwide