Thursday 29 April 2010

Dinner @ 101 Thai Kitchen (Thai), London

What's the best Thai restaurant in London ? If the Michelin guide is anything to go by then it's the one-star Nahm in the Halkin Hotel. But really what does a fat white bloke know about Thai food ? The 2010 Time Out Eating & Drinking guide isn't much help either as they seem to think Busaba Eathai is worthy of one of their coveted red stars. Come on now, that's a bit like saying you like indie music before revealing your favourite bands to be Snow Patrol and Razorlight.

Isaan sausages - photo courtesy of Su-Lin, Tamarind and Thyme

Surprisingly, there's also very little consensus on the blogosphere but having read Su-Lin's write-up, I got the distinct impression that 101 Thai Kitchen was a contender. Further positive reviews by Bellaphon and Sharmila reinforced this opinion and I'm very surprised that more bloggers haven't made the pilgrimage to Hammersmith. 

As my friends, Mr Fussy and Fush 'N' Chups are Hammersmith locals, they were happy to come here for dinner. Also joining us were Dark Side and Miss Bolshy. There are few outward signs that this restaurant is special and Fush 'N' Chups admitted that she had previously dismissed this casual canteen-like eatery because of its garish exterior (BTW - I didn't realise Kiwis could be such snobs!).

The interior is similarly lurid but the first thing that struck us when we arrived was the large number of Thai diners, which we took to be a good sign. Mind you, as the evening wore on, Mr Fussy noted that the clientele became less Thai and more farang. I was quietly pleased at how Mr Fussy had adopted the esprit de blog, as he was also the first to notice that the prawn crackers were of the posher and spicier variety.

As well as the usual Thai staples, this restaurant specialises in the respective home cuisines of its co-owners, namely the Lao-influenced cuisine of the Isaan region and Muslim dishes from the south of the country. There's also a specials board mainly written in Thai although many of these dishes are translated into English on the inside front cover of the individual menus. There were far too many interesting options and I found it very difficult to narrow down my choices.

From the wide selection of snacks and soups, I went for the poh tak soup (£4.25) to start. This is a cleaner alternative to the ubiquitous tom yum but no less tasty with generous amounts of seafood in a hot and sour broth. The soups are available as small or large with the latter being ample for three to four diners.

My friends kicked off with 101 Ways to Heaven (£7.25), a selection of spring rolls, chicken satay, king prawns in pastry, prawn toast, chicken wings w/lemongrass and sweetcorn cakes. They thought these snacks were a tad generic and predictable. Now I don't want to be an arse about this but they didn't need to order two platters to find that out. I mean what the hell did they expect ? A new take on prawn toast ? With hindsight, they would've been better off starting with soup or with individual dishes like steamed mussels. Another option would be to kick off by sharing one of the salads or grills.

Onto the mains and the undoubted star was my sea bass 'sour curry' hot pot (£9.95) – a fried sea bass served with morning glory, water mimosa and radish in a hot and sour curry. This dish was presented in a fish shaped dish atop a mini cooker. Whilst the fish was fully cooked, the vegetables were cooked at the table absorbing the flavours of the curry. The addictive almost soup-like tamarind based curry was out of this world and everyone dived in for a taste during the meal.

We didn't really share mains but I stepped into the breach when Fush 'N' Chups needed a bit of help to finish off her pepper crab (£8.95). This was tasty with the pepper complementing the sweet crab but if I was choosing, I might have gone for the garlic crab or curried crab instead. Miss Bolshy went for a chicken panang curry (£6.25) that evoked memories of her travels in Chiang Mai. I had a taste of the curry sauce, which was rich and spicy although Miss B thought it became too salty as it cooled.

Both Dark Side and Mr Fussy chose noodles and they went for pad thai w/chicken (£6.25) and pad kee mow w/chicken (£6.50) respectively. I tasted some of the former and thought it was better than most versions served in London. I felt a bit bad that I was merrily tucking into other people's dishes so I didn't try Mr Fussy's spicy fried yellow noodles. Mind you, they were sure to be a winner if they tasted half as good as they smelled.

We also ordered a few side dishes to share including the legendary Isaan sausages (£6.25). These were every bit as good as I hoped with a strong lemongrassy flavour. We also enjoyed the screaming nun (£6.25) – battered aubergine with a spicy sauce. Whilst the batter was a tad indelicate, the sauce was very special with the liquorice notes from the Thai basil lifting it to another level. There's also a quiet nun that pairs up battered aubergine with red curry. I can't remember much about the pad pak boong (£6.25) – stir-fried morning glory but I guess this was fine too. This just about finished us off and we had no room for desserts.

If I was being ultra critical, I could moan about the tiny wine glasses and the time it took for the coconut rice to arrive. That said, this isn't really a place for wine buffs and they didn't charge for the late arriving rice. In fact the service was pretty decent considering it was a busy Saturday night. This was largely due to our super helpful waitress as we did notice that some of the other staff were a bit mardy.

Our bill came to £120 for five people including a couple of bottles of Aussie Chardonnay, a beer and a tip. It was a bargain and I think you'd struggle to spend more than £25/head given that the most expensive dish on the menu costs less than a tenner.

Verdict: Irrespective of whether it's London's best Thai or not, 101 Thai Kitchen is an authentic restaurant of rare quality. I'll definitely be back to work my way through their menu.

Other Stuff: The drinks list includes soft drinks specially imported from Thailand including Red Bull-like energy drinks and different kinds of Fanta.

101 Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday 26 April 2010

Hot Pot @ Royal Palace (Chinese), London

Continuing my 'out of Zone 1' mini-tour, today's post finds me in Rotherhithe. This isn't a part of town where you expect there to be a ball-breakingly authentic Chinese restaurant so it's a pleasant surprise to find Royal Palace plying its trade here. From the outside, it looks pretty bog standard but its clientele are by and large, mainland Chinese who come here for a taste of home. 

Sadly the Northern Chinese specialities and other authentic dishes from across China are hidden away on a Chinese language menu. However, we were here for huo guo or hot pot and whilst the tick-sheet is in Chinese only, they do kindly provide an English translation on a separate sheet of A4.

I can't take credit for unearthing this gem as it's Kake's local and it was her suggestion that we try the hot pot here. We were a party of eight including the Randomness types and Bellaphon so this meant there was going to be loads of food.

I'm not going to do a blow by blow account as the photos below tell the story of a most excellent feast. Besides, it isn't easy to keep track when you order 44 dishes. Suffice to say, there was a mix of meat, fish, seafood, meatballs, fishballs, mushrooms, bean curd, vegetables, and of course noodles. For Spam-spotters, (yes I mean you, Wild Boar), we ordered some to placate Bellaphon.

As well as hot pot, this is one of the few places I know of that sell corn with salted egg yolk. This dish was a tad disappointing as it lacked the crispy moreish coating found in the version at Acton's Sichuan Restaurant.

The hot pot costs £20/head (min 2 persons) and like Little Lamb, this deal allows each diner to select 5 items. We struggled to finish the food and whilst it's good value, you can rack up a fair sized drinks bill as hot pot is eaten at a leisurely pace.

I'm not quite sure why but the waitress said we could pick an extra four dishes for free (like we needed more!) and as we paid cash, we also received a 10% discount on the food (but not the drinks). Service was good and my only grumble was that it was sometimes difficult to cook with a single hot pot for a party of eight. That said having two separate hot pots may have resulted in a less convivial atmosphere.

Verdict: I heartily recommend Royal Palace for hot pot. I'd also like to return to check out some of their regional Chinese specialities.

Other Stuff: With the London Overground opening up, there's no excuse not to come here. Surrey Quays station is very close by and Canada Water, which is also on the Jubilee Line isn't too far away either.

Royal Palace on Urbanspoon

Friday 23 April 2010

Noodle Special @ Talad Thai (Thai), London

One of my New Year's resolutions was to review more London restaurants outside Zone 1. I've made some efforts, most notably with write-ups of Papaya and Sichuan Restaurant but I still feel that Central London reviews predominate.

With that in mind, I decided to take my soup noodle odyssey to Zone 2 with a trip to Putney's Talad Thai. From the moment I walked through the door, I had a good feeling about this place. The dining room was light and airy and I loved the pictures and woodcarvings that adorned this homely little restaurant. The service was also good although there were few diners that lunchtime so I'm not sure how they might cope in the heat of battle.

The menu lists the usual suspects like pad thai and curries but I came here for the Thai Noodle Special section at the back of the menu, where eight soup noodle dishes lurk. There's a distinct trace of Chinese DNA in Thai soup noodle dishes and this is evident in the ingredients used and the fact that it's the only Thai dish eaten using chopsticks.

My choice of kuay tiew moo tom yum (£4.00) was no exception with ingredients such as kuay tiew rice noodles, fish balls and fish cake that originate from China. Also in the mix were mince pork, bean sprouts, liver slices and a fried wonton. These were all in a soup topped with dried ground chilli and crushed roasted peanuts.

The soup had sweet undertones and it could be accused of being under-seasoned but this didn't matter once you gave it a stir to mix in the chilli and crushed peanuts. This brought the soup alive and whilst the fish balls and fish cake were bought in (they usually are), everything else was fresh. With so many different ingredients, this bowl of noodles could've been a car crash but somehow the combination worked and the result was a clean, tasty and refreshing lunch.

Portion size wasn't the world's largest and on another day, I would've needed a second bowl or a side dish. However, it was fine for a light lunch and besides at £4, it cost only a bit more than a boring old sandwich.

Verdict: I really enjoyed the soup noodles here and as Putney isn't too far from where I live, I'd like to return for a proper Thai blow-out.

Other Stuff: There's a small supermarket also called Talad Thai, a couple of doors down from the restaurant that stocks the ingredients to recreate your favourite Thai dishes at home.

Talad Thai on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 20 April 2010

The Compulsory Goodman Post

I wasn't going to write a review until I received the following e-mail....

Subject: Blog Code Violation

Dear Mr Noodles,

It has come to our attention that your blog Eat Noodles Love Noodles violates several statutes of the London food blog code, in particular the absence of any reviews of Bob Bob Ricard, Goodman and Hawksmoor.

As your blog is now older than six months, you are no longer in the probation period for which we may turn a blind eye to such lapses. Moreover, any defence based on your blog concentrating on Chinese food and noodles cannot be used as you haven't got round to reviewing either Leong's Legends or Pearl Liang.

Frankly, we've always had you down as a troublemaker what with you being one of the few bloggers not to write about Pierre Koffman at Selfridges last autumn. That and the lack of coverage on burgers – save one perfunctory post – mark you out as someone we need to bring into line.

Given that we know that you've eaten at Goodman, we just cannot understand why you still haven't posted a review. You didn't really think you could get away without writing anything especially as you had dinner there with other bloggers (that Grubworm chap blew your cover with a mention in his review).

We know for example that you started with the pâté, chicken liver & foie gras w/onion jam & brioche toast and that you moaned about the lack of toast. We know that you wilfully refused the burger in favour of an equally excellent 400g USDA ribeye steak. We even know that you thought it weird that one end of the steak was medium, the other end rare and with only the middle being medium rare as requested.

Word is you liked the chips and that you dipped them in the moreish béarnaise. We also hear that you were in your own little world as you didn't pay much attention to what other people had as starters and that you spurned desserts after overdosing on steak.

We also cannot comprehend why you haven't shouted from the rooftops that you had a great night out. Notwithstanding the excellent company, we do know you were impressed by the classy elegant dining room and that you thought the service was unobtrusive and professional. Was it due to your embarrassment that the Argentine 2007 Salentein Reserve Pinot Noir from Mendoza you ordered was too sweet?

Consider this your first and final warning – you have until the end of the week to post on Goodman. Otherwise, we'll seize your blog, rename it Eat Burgers Love Burgers and forcibly insert multiple posts on why you can't get a decent burger in London.

Yours sincerely,

The Blog Inspectors

PS: Ever thought of taking photography lessons? The photos from your Casio can be a bit crap.

Goodman on Urbanspoon

If you want to know about the starters, burgers and desserts then Grubworm and Catty have reviews up. At time of writing, The London Foodie, Kavey and Uyen have yet to post but keep your eyes open as I'm sure The Blog Police are on to them.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Sui Gow Noodles @ Wan Chai Corner (Cantonese), London

My recent soup noodle experiences haven't been good reaching a nadir with the shockingly awful wonton noodles at Cha Cha Moon. With that in mind, I decided to go old school with a visit to Wan Chai Corner – on the corner of Gerrard St and Gerrard Place – in the heart of Chinatown.

This place is a relatively new opening but it is a proper old school joint with a Cantonese BBQ counter, dim sum and a lengthy menu encompassing Anglo-Chinese crowdpleasers and hardcore Cantonese dishes. Granted it was the Easter school hols but the place was surprisingly buzzing at 2.15pm on a weekday. The clientele were a mix of retired Chinese, tourists, Chinese students and peeps like me taking a day off work with good intentions of doing chores (but failing miserably).

I ordered sui gow tang mein or king prawn dumpling soup noodle (£4.20) as it's called on the menu. These dumplings – closely related to wontons – were of decent quality and properly seasoned, as was the broth. The noodles had been rinsed properly and were perfectly springy. This is how it should be, as dishes as simple as this aren't meant to be cocked-up in any way, shape or form. I could've done with more prawn in the sui gow and they could've been larger but I can't really complain when the price is £4.20.

There was no way this bowl of noodles was going to sate my appetite so I ordered a portion of zhaliang or cheung fun filled with fried dough stick (£2.80) from the dim sum menu. This is one of my favourites as I love the contrast between the slippery smooth cheung fun and the crispy fried dough stick. Sadly whilst it was filling, the zhaliang here lacked quality. The dough stick was a tad greasy and it had been over fried so whilst it was crispy outside, it lacked bounce inside.

Service was pretty decent and I particularly appreciated the unprompted investigation on the whereabouts of my zhaliang. My lunch was a steal at £8.40 including tea and 10% service. I was also full unlike that time I spent £13 at Cha Cha Moon.

Verdict: Wan Chai Corner is a good Chinatown lunch option for a bowl of noodles or a one-plate meal. 

Other Stuff: Their Cantonese BBQ is of a high quality if my take away roast duck (£7/half) is anything to go by.

Wan Chai Corner on Urbanspoon

Thursday 15 April 2010

World of Noodles 3: Cup Noodles

If there were such a thing as a 'Noodle Hall of Fame' then the guys from Nissin would definitely be inducted. I've already written about Nissin Ramen, their instant soup noodle but they are probably more famous for their Cup Noodles. These noodles are widely available in Chinese supermarkets where they retail for around 90p. The version sold in the UK tends to be one manufactured by Nissin's Hong Kong subsidiary rather than the original Japanese version.

I know what you're all thinking and that this is just the Asian version of Pot Noodle. I agree there are similarities but Cup Noodles are in a different league when it comes to 'trashy bad for you' snacks. My favourite is 'blue' or seafood flavour but in an attempt at healthy living, I haven't eaten these noodles in a long, long time. However, I am willing to take one for the blog and I bought some to see if they were as tasty as I remember.

My initial reaction was that they had shrunk as I remember them having a larger cup size. Or perhaps my memory was playing tricks on me. As well as noodles there are bits of veg, cuttlefish, 'crab' stick and fish (Pollack allegedly) and more E-numbers than you knew existed. After pouring the boiling water in, I waited three minutes before tucking in.

The noodles are of good quality and when rehydrated the little bits of fish and veg are very moreish. Beware if you're sensitive to MSG, the soup is full of flavour enhancer. You have to be student or an idiot to live off these but they won't do you much harm as an occasional treat.

PS: The last word is on the photo on the packaging. I know it says 'serving suggestion' (in the smallest writing legally permissible) but really who would go to the trouble of topping their 'Cup Noodles' with fresh squid, octopus and king prawn? 

Monday 12 April 2010

Dim Sum @ Royal China Club (Cantonese), London

Royal China Club is the classy upmarket offshoot of the Royal China mini-chain. It reminds me of the posh Cantonese restaurants found in five-star Hong Kong hotels although the views of Baker St aren't quite as stunning. It's pricey here and they are challenging the likes of Hakkasan and Yauatcha albeit in a more traditional setting. Posh dim sum places like these aren't my usual cup of tea but I thought it'd be rude to decline The London Foodie's invitation to join him and Dr G for lunch. 

A couple of things threw me when surveying the menu. Firstly, there was no tick-sheet to fill in. I hate it when there's no tick-sheet as it can be a nightmare trying to keep track of your order. Secondly, many of my favourites like mak yu beng (fried cuttlefish cakes) and zhaliang (cheung fun filled with fried dough stick) weren't on the menu.

Rather than dwell on this, we went for some unusual dishes that are seldom seen elsewhere. Dishes like pan-fried duck breast fillet (£4.60), which was tasty and moreish but was spoiled by a gloopy sauce. More successful was the fillet of sea bass wrap (£4.80), which consisted of two curls of sea bass fillet wrapped around julienned veg. It was topped with glass noodles and I really liked the zingy chilli flecked dressing it came with.

I also enjoyed the concept and the execution of the duck omelette with glutinous rice (£5.00), which was like a lotus leaf wrap but in omelette format. Sadly, I couldn't say the same about the lobster dumplings in rice wine sauce (£8.00), which were a huge disappointment. The lobster was overcooked and the only discernible flavour was rice wine. It was also a total rip off as there were only two dumplings (I thought there would be three) i.e. £4 per dumpling – outrageous.

For all the off-piste dishes that were available here, it was the staples that I was most impressed with. I liked the baked char siu pork puff (£3.60) whilst the surprise addition of mango in the sesame prawn rolls (£3.80) worked. I couldn't really detect the advertised crab in the xiao long bao or Shanghai pork dumplings w/crab (£4.20) but these properly retained the soup filling. The har gau or prawn & bamboo pith dumplings and prawn & chive dumplings (both £3.90) were also superior to most London dim sum joints.

Dim sum isn't dim sum without cheung fun and we went for Dover sole cheung fun and veal cheung fun. There was disagreement across the table as I preferred the Dover sole whilst the others preferred the veal. The presentation in common with the rest of our meal was excellent but as you can see above, the portion size was a bit mean for £4.20 per dish.

The biggest let down of the meal was the braised e-fu noodles (£9.50), as these were soggy and came with a gloopy sauce. Totally underwhelming and well below the standard you’d expect from a restaurant of this calibre.

We rounded the meal off with coconut moss dumplings with black sesame (£3.90), which were a delicious end to a generally above par dim sum feast. 

Service was attentive although they may have been a tad overzealous in their attempts at upselling. Either that or I was being a bit oversensitive. The bill racked up to £81 including tea and service i.e. £27/head. It's not cheap and even if you stuck to staples and didn't order expensive specials like lobster dumplings then you'd still expect to pay £23/head – 50% more than the norm.

Verdict: A bit of a mixed bag but there was enough promise in the kitchen to consider returning here. Mind you given the prices, it'd have to be for a special treat or on expenses.

Other Stuff: If your budget doesn't stretch to eating here then nearby dim sum options include Phoenix Palace on Glentworth St and a 'regular' branch of Royal China further along Baker St. 

Royal China Club on Urbanspoon

Thursday 8 April 2010

Lunch @ Monsieur M (Pan-Asian), London

One of the great pleasures of blogging is meeting up with other bloggers so I was delighted to have lunch with Londonelicious and An American in London. The venue was Shoreditch's Monsieur M, which Londonelicious chose as it reminded her of a similar place in Berlin, Monsieur Vuong. In fact, the whole concept was a bit of a rip-off homage with the trendy interior design and a similarly sparse menu offering just four choices of main, three choices of sides and a dessert. At lunchtime, you can combine these in a deal of a main, a side and a drink for £10.

I'm a big inverted snob and trendy places like these usually bring me out in hives. That said I'll give most places a try and it’s good to have one's prejudices challenged from time to time. As there were three of us, we decided to go for all three sides on offer, chicken toast, crispy wontons, and summer rolls. The deep fried snacks were OK in a trashy way although I preferred the summer rolls, which were perfectly adequate but nothing more.

Onto the mains and my fellow diners both went for a Thai beef green curry. To use the vernacular of the sports commentator, 'it didn’t pull up any trees' but it wasn't a total shocker. I remember they weren't overjoyed that their curry was mixed in with the rice.

Having adopted the moniker Mr Noodles, my main was a straight choice between two Vietnamese noodle dishes, pho gai (chicken pho soup noodles) or bun gai (stir fried chicken on rice vermicelli). I dismissed the pho as I had a feeling it'd be bad here, especially as it was served with garlic. Notwithstanding that it seems a weird addition to soup noodles, I don't think I've ever seen garlic in pho.

Mind you the bun gai was hardly a paragon of authentic Vietnamese cuisine. I knew something was amiss as they used the wrong noodle and God alone knows why they used thick spaghetti-like rice noodle. I wouldn’t mind but bun or rice vermicelli is hardly difficult to get your hands on. The noodles were also served warm rather than at room temperature, another faux pas.

Overall, this dish was very bland and not even the addition of extra nuoc cham could lift it. The overwhelming flavour was of peanut and I could also taste sesame oil, which is just plain wrong in bun dishes. On the plus side, the stir-fried chicken was tasty and tender but it lacked the charring that the grilled meats that come with this dish should have.

Service was OK although they were a bit slow in bringing glasses of tap water. That said; the management were happy to discuss Londonelicious’ query regarding the similarities to Monsieur Vuong and they also took my feedback on using the wrong kind of noodle with good grace.

Verdict: I doubt I’ll be returning here anytime soon as there are so many Vietnamese restaurants on the nearby Kingsland Rd serving authentic food of a higher quality.

Other Stuff: Monsieur M styles itself as an Indochinese restaurant but was Thailand ever considered part of Indochina?

Monsieur M. on Urbanspoon