Thursday, 28 February 2013

Off The Blog 7 - Eating In Soho

It's been a hell of a long time since I last did an 'Off The Blog' summary. 15 months to be precise. Well, better late than never, here are three places in Soho to get your chopsticks into.

One of my favourite Vietnamese dishes is bánh cuốn, a rice noodle roll that shares some similarities with Cantonese cheung fun. Although there are many Vietnamese restaurants in London, few sell this superior dish. Café East in Surrey Quays does, but its version doesn't come anywhere close to the bánh cuốn at Cây Tre Soho. Filled with ground pork, wood ear and shitake mushrooms, a large portion makes an ideal light lunch. Recommended.

For a previous review of this restaurant, click here.

Cay Tre Soho on Urbanspoon

Cây Tre, 42-43 Dean Street, London W1D 4QD (Tel: 020-7317-9118)
Nearest tube: Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road

Following a long forgotten incident involving Pa Noodles getting the hump about some over-battered fried squid, I hadn't been to Golden Dragon in a long, long time. In the intervening years this Chinatown veteran has barely changed. As far as the food goes, there were some moments of class such as the chive dumplings in the photo and the beef satay fried ho fun noodles. Less successful was a dish of over-greasy fried dough stick cheung fun and some lacklustre xiao long bao. That said, I enjoyed my lunch in this buzzy atmospheric Cantonese restaurant. And while there is superior dim sum to be had in the capital, Golden Dragon is one of the better choices in Chinatown.

For a guide to my favourite London dim sum restaurants, click here.

Golden Dragon on Urbanspoon

Golden Dragon, 28-29 Gerrard St, London, W1D 6JW (Tel: 020-7734-1073)
Nearest tube: Leicester Square

Soho Ramen is the latest offering from Tonkotsu Bar and Ramen, which sees own-made ramen noodles paired with shio-based pork and chicken broth topped off with smoked haddock, a bit of caviar, pak choi, half an egg, menma and spring onion. The clear, mellow soup (a lighter style compared to this restaurant's signature tonkotsu broth) is an ideal match for the toppings, as it allows the flavour of the smoked haddock to shine through. But the real star of the show is the own-made ramen; these springy alkali noodles are arguably the best of their kind in the capital. I previously had Shoryu and Bone Daddies ahead of Tonkotsu in my London ramen rankings, but on this showing I may just have to reappraise my opinion.

For a previous review of this restaurant, click here. And for more on ramen, click here.

Tonkotsu on Urbanspoon

Tonkotsu Bar and Ramen, 63 Dean Street, London W1D 4QG (Tel: 020-7437-0071)
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Roujiamo 肉夹馍 by Mama Wang's Kitchen

Originally from the province of Shaanxi 陝西, roujiamo 肉夹馍 is a common sight in China's larger cities, but it's rarely seen in the West. So I was really intrigued when I heard that a street stall called Mama Wang's Kitchen was knocking out this sandwich near Archway tube station.

To the uninitiated, roujiamo simply consists of slow-braised pork in a crispy unleavened bun, but in common with many street food dishes, vendors like to put their own spin on this classic. Mama Wang's Chairman Mo (£5 for a large one) is a generously filled sandwich full of red-braised pork cheeks (think of a pot bubbling away with star anise, cassia bark, cardamom amongst other aromatics), tiger salad and pork scratchings.

The pork cheeks are a great idea, as the tender meaty strands soak up the fragrant braising liquor. However, I would've liked to see some extra pork fat as well as more punch from the star anise. I'd also ditch the tiger salad; it was a good salad but the coriander was fine on its own and the julienned carrot and cucumber felt surplus to requirements. On the plus side, the pork scratchings are a welcome addition giving a contrast in texture as well as injecting some naughtiness to the sarnie.

As purveyors of traditional Shaanxi-style flatbreads are a bit thin on the ground in north London, Mama Wang's use English muffins. I'm not sure the muffin really works in the same way as the flatbread does in the original version, but there aren't too many alternatives. The only one I can think of is pitta bread, but then again that's probably too thin for roujiamo. Some of you may be thinking steamed Chinese mantou could be the answer. This would no doubt make a great sandwich, but it wouldn't be a roujiamo. If any of you can think of a solution to this conundrum, do let Mama Wang's know.

I fear I'm coming across as a bit of a grumpy bollocks in this review. I don't mean to. All told, Mama Wang's roujiamo is a more than welcome addition to London's street food scene. Yes, they could tweak it more to my tastes, but then again not everyone is a salad dodging, pork fat loving, star anise worshipper. So if you do find yourself down on the Holloway Road on a Saturday, give the Chairman Mo a try.

Mama Wang's Kitchen - stall outside Budgens on Holloway Road
Open Saturdays 10am-4pm
Nearest stations: Archway, Upper Holloway

Friday, 8 February 2013

Neptune Oyster - Boston's Finest

I was going to do a round-up of the eats on my recent visit to Boston, but in the end I couldn't be arsed. It's not that the places where I ate were bad; in fact they were pretty decent. It's just that they weren't Neptune Oyster. This intimate seafood joint is a truly special place that really captures the essence of Boston.

We kicked off with the steamed Wellfleet littlenecks, an Iberian-inspired dish and one of the best things I have eaten in a long, long time. A perfect marriage between juicy littleneck clams, freshly caught off Cape Cod, and a sharp, tangy Albarino-based broth full of flavour from chorizo and roasted garlic finished off with parsley and lemon. A side order of bread is obligatory to mop up the broth. This dish was so good we ordered a second helping!

Our other appetizer was Neptunes on Piggyback - crispy fried oysters on top of pulled Berkshire pork with golden raisin confiture and pistachio aioli on toast. It sounds a bit ambitious but all the components worked well together. In addition to a second helping of littlenecks, we ordered Cioppino, an Italian-American fish stew served with saffron rice for our mains (or entrees as the Americans weirdly insist on calling main courses). This was good but it seemed a little monochrome when compared to the technicolor littlenecks.

As American portion sizes are that much bigger, we were full after sharing three starters and a main between two. In fact, I think the way to go at Neptune is to order a spread of starters and maybe something from the raw bar as opposed to the traditional starter-main combo. For those weirdos that dislike seafood, I spied burger and steak on the menu but if you're a veggie then you're pretty much screwed.

One last thing, Neptune Oyster is a tiny, no reservations joint. That said, you can put your name on a list at the door and they'll give you a time to return. There's a nearby pub called Goody Glovers where you can savour a couple of pints while waiting.

Neptune Oyster on Urbanspoon

Neptune Oyster, 63 Salem St, Boston, MA 02113, USA
(Tel : +1 617-742-3474) Nearest station: Haymarket

PS: OK then, you've twisted my arm, here are a couple of other tips for Boston. For lobster, try Atlantic Fish and for steak, try Abe & Louie's. Neither is particularly cutting edge, but they're both comfortable and serve good quality food and wine. Sometimes that's all you need when you're far from home and knackered after a hard day at work.