Thursday 29 July 2010

The Golden Noodle Awards 2009-10

My friend 'The Ref' isn't really a foodie. I mean this is someone who has the Burger King app on his iPhone. And actually uses it. Nor does he know much about blogging although that doesn't stop him from offering advice on the subject (or any other subject for that matter).

That said, his idea of annual awards was brilliant and his suggestion that they be called 'The Golden Noodle Awards' inspirational. For perhaps the only time in the fourteen or so years I've known him, I have to say I was in total agreement with him. So here goes, five awards covering my first year as a blogger from August 2009. 

The Golden Noodle – awarded to London's best noodles

Winner: Pho Tai Nam by Song Que

I love all kinds of noodles but my preference is for soup noodles. That's not to say the bun dishes, I've had at Mien Tay and at Song Que weren't contenders. A special mention also goes out to the many bowls of dan dan noodles I've eaten, with Sichuan Restaurant's version probably being my favourite.

Now you might think with my Cantonese origins, I'd favour soup noodles from places like Hung's or Wan Chai Corner. The thing is though, I'm too familiar with the likes of wonton noodles and whilst they're good, I know they can be better.

Making a late dash for glory was the noodle on everyone's lips, the udon at Koya. I really enjoyed my niku atsu-atsu and this dish takes the bronze medal. Just ahead in the silver medal position was the fish head vermicelli from Rasa Sayang.

The winner was always going to be pho, a dish I think is the king of noodles. I don't track it down as assiduously as I should but if there's a better bowl of pho in London than the pho tai nam from Song Que then can someone let me know ? This hearty bowl of Vietnamese rice noodles with rare steak and well-done flank is a worthy winner of the inaugural Golden Noodle award.

The Golden Restaurant – awarded to the best London restaurant new to me

Winner: Empress of Sichuan

I decided to restrict this award to those restaurants that I first visited in the last year. This rules out old favourites like Chilli Cool, Little Lamb, Medcalf, Pearl Liang, Phoenix Palace, Rasa Sayang, and Song Que.

After much deliberation, I came up with a shortlist of three. 101 Thai Kitchen presses all the right inverted snobbery buttons in that it's more like a canteen, appeals to the Thai community, and is inexpensive. Undoubtedly, the best Thai meal I've had in a long time and it gets the bronze medal.

Roka seems an obvious choice and whilst the food, service and entire experience was of the highest order, I don't think it's fair to compare their expensive tasting menu to the other restaurants, I've been to. This upmarket Japanese place has to settle for silver.

Sichuan food is the cuisine du jour and I'm always keen to sample new places. Of those I've tried for the first time in the past year, my favourite was the Empress of Sichuan, and it's this restaurant that wins The Golden Restaurant award. Authentic, reasonably priced Sichuan food in comfortable surroundings smack bang in the heart of Chinatown – what's not to love ?

The Genius Award – awarded to a plate of food that shows the most genius

Winner: Squid filled with salted duck egg yolk & seaweed by Ya Wang, Beijing

Have you noticed that the most creative dishes are usually at the beginning of a meal ? I mean you seldom see a main course and think wow. More often than not, it's the small dishes that strike you as genius.

And so it is with the contenders for The Genius Award, as they are all starters and small plates. For example, the fried corn w/salted egg from the Sichuan Restaurant, cold baby octopus tossed with chilli, lemon and garlic from Phoenix Palace's dim sum menu, and pig cheeks w/parsnip & Bramley apple from Medcalf.

However, none of these London dishes comes close to the winner from Beijing restaurant, Ya Wang. This specialist duck restaurant knocked up a dish of such creativity, originality and genius that it is seared forever in my memory.

I bet there's many a Michelin starred chef that wishes they lined a squid with seaweed then filled it with salted duck egg yolk. This dish looks good, tastes better and is a resounding two finger salute to all those who think Chinese food lacks art and finesse. In a word, genius.

The Red Card – awarded to who I want to send off the field of food

Winner: Matthew Norman – restaurant critic

This award is dedicated to The Ref, to thank him for the awards concept. I've eaten some bad food and experienced some bad service but nothing has riled me as much as some professional restaurant critics. I know many do an excellent job but some are worthy of an early bath.

I'd like to show yellow cards to Giles Coren (The Times) and Guy Dimond (Time Out) for aiming little bitch-slaps at bloggers. However my bile is ultimately reserved for those critics who know sweet FA about food that doesn't have European DNA. So Toby Young from the Independent is sent off after two yellow card offences. It's bad enough he once reviewed the set menu from a Chinese restaurant but to do it twice is journalism at its most laziest.

But I'd like to award a straight red card to Matthew Norman for writing in The Guardian:
"The last thing you anticipate from even the finest Chinese chef is the showing of respect to the veg."
How can anyone that makes a living from writing about food come out with such ignorant bollocks about Chinese cuisine ? He no longer writes for The Guardian but Norman's insightful wisdom can now be found in the pages of The Daily Telegraph.

Red card image, courtesy Wikipedia

Album of the Year – awarded to my favourite album of the last year

Winner: Ignore The Ignorant - The Cribs

This has sod all to do with food but it's my blog so I get to choose the award categories. I'm not as up on my music as I used to be and I increasingly rely on the young 'uns in my office to help me out. They've switched me onto some great stuff over the last year, in particular the melancholy tunes of The National.

But my favourite album over the last year is by a band that I didn't need an introduction to. The Cribs were a good band but by recruiting guitar legend, Johnny Marr, they're within touching distance of greatness. The album Ignore The Ignorant harks back to a time when indie music hadn't been watered down to the point of almost being homeopathic.

If you like the sound of Johnny Marr's guitar then you should also check out his work with The Smiths, Electronic, The The, and Modest Mouse

Sunday 25 July 2010

Chinese Style Beef Steak by 3 Hungry Tummies

It's the 100th post on Eat Noodles Love Noodles and rather than post one of my half-arsed reviews of a London restaurant, I've decided to do something special to celebrate. So it is my pleasure to present a guest post by one of my favourite bloggers, Suresh from 3 Hungry Tummies.

Suresh originally hails from Malaysia but he now calls Melbourne (or as I know it, Brunchtown) home. From his little kitchen, he knocks out the most amazing dishes, not just from his homeland but from across Asia and all over, to share on his blog. 

When Mr. Noodles of Eat Noodles Love Noodles asked me to do a guest post for his blog I said yes without any hesitation. It is not just any guest post; it is his 100th post and with such an honour bestowed upon me, I put my mind to work right away for something appropriate for such occasion. A noodle post might be an easy option but I decided against it and instead chosen a dish that might represent who he is - a British-born Chinese, whose parents emigrated from Hong Kong, who is also very passionate and proud of his heritage.

What I have chosen is this Cantonese classic created by talented Hong Kong cooks using both Chinese and English ingredients. It looks unmistakably Chinese that is until you have your first taste of the sauce that has all the English condiments in it, more importantly the Chineseness of the dish has not been compromised with the added foreign sauces. For Mr Noodles' friends who are still not convinced by the beauty of Chinese food, this might be a good dish to show them how versatile and diverse the cuisine can be. I am looking forward to the day we meet; there will be beers, wine and zha jiang mian.... oops! I mean dan dan mian! Last but not least, congratulations on your 100th post and am looking forward to the 200th and 300th...

serves 4 as part of a Chinese meal
you'll need;
500 g of beef fillet - sliced across the grains to roughly 8 mm slices*
1 tbs of light soy
1 tsp of white pepper
1 tbs of corn flour
2 tbs of peanut oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 brown onion, sliced
1 bunch of bokchoy or Asian greens of your choice, halved lengthwise and blanched just before serving
1 spring onion, cut into 5 cm lengths and julienne
* Place beef in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up to make slicing easier.

for the sauce;
6 tbs of tomato ketchup
3 tbs of HP sauce
1 tbs of worcestershire sauce
1 tbs of oyster sauce
dash of sesame oil
2 tbs of sugar
1/2 cup of stock
dash of white pepper
corn flour solution

Mix everything for the sauce in a bowl (except the corn flour solution) and set aside.

Slice beef across the grains and lightly pounded with a kitchen mallet.

Marinate beef with soy, white pepper, corn flour and peanut oil.

Pan fry beef in a hot pan without using any oil (a non stick pan is best) for 15 seconds on each side and set aside.

Saute garlic and onion for a minute then add in the sauce mixture and cook for a minute. Check for seasonings and thicken with a little corn flour solution.

Return beef to the wok and lower the heat. Coat beef pieces with the sauce and warm through, take care not to cook the beef any further.

Blanch Asian greens very briefly and drain well.

Serve beef with blanched greens and top with some julienne spring onions. I hope Mr Noodles will be making this for his Chinese food sceptic friends sometime soon.

Thanks once again to 3 Hungry Tummies for this recipe, which brings back a few childhood memories. Unbeknown to Suresh, my Dad cooked a very similar dish when I was growing up but with pork fillet instead of beef.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Off The Blog 3 - Chinese Restaurant Special

Here's an Off The Blog special featuring three Chinese restaurants that showcase three different regional cuisines, Sichuan, Taiwanese, and Cantonese.

As regular readers will know, one of my favourite restaurants is Chilli Cool but before they opened, I used to be a regular at Snazz Sichuan on Chalton St (near Euston station). Alas, Snazz Sichuan is no more and it has been taken over by the Red 'N' Hot mini-chain. I've previously reviewed their Chinatown restaurant, where I uncovered their racial profiling policy, which they also have in operation at this branch.

The Randomness peeps organised this outing and Bellaphon also joined us. Their more detailed reviews can be found here and here - Bellaphon's review has a video of the meal ! We ordered a wide selection of food including benchmark dishes such as dan dan noodles (£5.60)shui zhu niu rou or hot and numbing beef (£8.80), and la zi ji or special fried chicken w/chilli and cumin (£12). Of these the chicken was my fave, possibly on a par with Chilli Cool's version. However the dish of the evening was in my opinion, the offal-ly good fire-exploded kidney flowers (£7.80).

The bill including drinks and service came to a reasonable £25/head. I felt a bit bad eating here, as it felt like I was cheating on Chilli Cool. I still prefer the 'Cool but I would happily come here if I wanted to eat Sichuan food in a more elegant setting. By the way, I think this branch is better than the one in Chinatown.

Red 'n' Hot on Urbanspoon

Leong's Legends is an oft-blogged restaurant but one I had never visited until a month ago. There are now three branches of this Taiwanese chain, and Mr Wine and I went to Leong's Legends Continues on Lisle St, as there was a queue at the original branch.

For starters, we went with the signature dish of pork & crab siu loung bao (£6) or xiao long bao, as they are known in Mandarin. These soup filled dumplings were good but not as good as I was led to believe. It was hard to discern any crabmeat and the 'pinch' at the top was too doughy. Part of the problem is that I've eaten top-notch xiao long bao in Shanghai and the versions back home compare unfavourably.

Our other starter was the Taiwan mini-kebab with pork (£2 each). I liked the belly pork in this but with hindsight, eating a sandwich each before our mains was a bit much. It was too filling and it spoiled our appetite for the rest of the meal.

Onto the mains and we found ourselves playing that old game of 'Chinese-menu Russian Roulette', in which the dishes you order are either excellent or crap. In the latter category was the sea bass fillets in sha cha sauce (£9.50), which came in a gloopy sauce that wasn't made with sha cha sauce as I know it. The aubergine with mashed garlic and tao pan sauce (£5) was our old friend, fish fragrant aubergine according to its Chinese name. This was also disappointing as it was unevenly seasoned in that it was either very spicy or not spicy at all.

Thank god that the chicken with rice wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil (£7.80) saved the day. This famous Taiwanese dish is called san bei ji or three cup chicken in Chinese as it is made with a cup each of rice wine, soy, and sesame oil. The resultant sauce was divine and was further enhanced by the aniseedy notes of the Thai basil. Mr Wine remarked that mashed potatoes would go down a storm with this sauce.

Together with rice, a bottle of Aussie Foundstone Chardonnay (Mr Wine went with my choice!) and a tip, we paid £30/head. I liked the ambience on the top floor and you could imagine that you were in a medieval Chinese inn. I also thought the service was excellent although I'm never sure whether being able to speak Chinese makes a difference.

Leong's Legends Continue on Urbanspoon

On the last couple of occasions, my folks have been in London, they've eaten dim sum at Phoenix Palace and Pearl Liang. They liked the food but they didn't like the fact that there wasn't a Chinese supermarket nearby. The thing is, my parents are typical Chinese of their generation and like to go to food shopping after a dim sum feast.

So between the Noodles' siblings, we were tasked with finding a decent dim sum restaurant in Chinatown, easier said than done. We chose Golden Harvest – coincidentally owned by the same group that operates Leong's Legends and the Empress of Sichuan – on Gerrard St. It was nicely decorated and comfortably accommodated our family group of all ages.

Sadly that's as good as it got and I won't bore you with too many details of the actual dim sum, as it was very mediocre. My favourites of har gau (prawn dumplings) and mak yu beng (cuttlefish cakes) were poorly done. There was some good stuff like the wor tip (grilled pork dumplings) and portion size was very generous but otherwise, it was largely forgettable.

With some sides of noodles and siu yuk (crispy belly pork), the bill clocked in at £15/head. You could say it was good value but I'd rather pay an extra fiver for higher quality dim sum.

{Update Oct 10 - Golden Harvest is now closed and it has re-opened as Dumplings Legends. This restaurant specialises in Shanghai-style xiao long bao and also serves a small selection of other dim sum at lunchtime as well as a pan-Chinese main menu. I've yet to visit but it's on my list.}

Golden Harvest on Urbanspoon

Saturday 17 July 2010

Lunch & Brunch @ Wallace & Co (British), London

The British cycle of celebrity worship goes something like this. You become famous and people love you. You become overexposed then people loathe you. You do something worthy and people love you again. I call it the Jamie Oliver cycle.

Of course, where a celeb sits on the cycle of worship is highly subjective but for me Gregg Wallace is definitely overexposed. It doesn't help that there are multiple versions of MasterChef in which he utters inanities at the top of his voice whilst attempting to spear an entire plateful of food onto his fork. The only good thing I can say about the uncouth Wallace is that he's marginally less annoying than his partner in crime, John Torode

With that in mind, I was expecting to hate Wallace & Co and was ready to condemn it as a vanity project. Some early press reviews support this view and the fact that it's the kind of place that attracts smug marrieds and yummy mummies only reinforced my prejudices. It was frankly a miracle that the chip on my shoulder made it through the door and together with the likes of El Greco, Mr Pak Choi and The Ref amongst others; we were ready to do battle against Wallace and his fancy all day caff.

The thing was though, Wallace was ready for us with free flasks of filtered tap water and charming efficient waiting staff. Disarmed, the six of us all ordered the roast beef (£14.50). There's not a lot you can say about roast beef but it was good quality meat that wasn't overcooked and actually tasted of beef. As you can see from the photos, the portion size was so generous that the vegetables had to be served separately (the photo shows veg for two).

I knew this place was a winner when my normally irascible friend, The Ref, couldn't find anything to complain about. In fact the only minor food grumble came from Mr Pak Choi who lamented that the giant Yorkshire pudding was a bit doughy although this was mitigated by the fact that it was freshly made. My only moan was that the dining room was a bit clattery but I guess it's better for a restaurant to be too loud rather than too quiet.

With a round of drinks and a tip, the bill came to £20/head. Not bad at all for Putney especially when you consider how many places serve smaller lower quality Sunday lunches for the same price.

Returning a few weeks later for brunch, Mr Pak Choi and I had high hopes for their Full English breakfast (£7.50). This was duly ordered and although it included egg, bacon, sausage, black pudding, tomato, mushroom, and toast, it lacked baked beans, which I had to order separately for 75p.

I'm a bit of a prima donna when it comes to fry-up's in that I have to have my beans separate from my egg. The waitress said that wouldn't be a problem and she made a note that the beans be served separately to avoid any possibility of bean-egg contact. So you can imagine I wasn't best pleased that the beans were served on top of the egg. I couldn't really give a toss if that was the only problem. But it wasn't, the egg yolks were hard and the bacon burnt, which is pretty unforgivable in a cooked breakfast.

Paradoxically, Mr Pak Choi's scrambled eggs were a bit underdone although they managed not to murder his bacon. Moreover with the exception of the excellent black pudding, the ingredients weren't of a quality commensurate with a £7.50 price-tag. In particular, we both thought that the sausage was below par. Oh and they served our toast ages before the rest of the breakfast, which meant it was stone-cold by the time our fry-up's arrived.

It was hard to believe that the same kitchen that knocked up such an excellent Sunday roast was responsible for our below par Full English. For all our disappointment though, a special mention goes to our waitress who offered an unprompted apology for the bean-egg contact and was a star throughout. It's a shame when decent front-of-house is undermined by a lack of care and attention in the kitchen.

With hot drinks, juices and a tip, the bill came to £15/head. I'm hoping my experience was a one-off, as given the poor quality of the breakfast it wasn't particularly good value.

Verdict: There's a lot to like about this local neighbourhood café and I recommend it should you find yourself down Putney way. Just make sure you go for lunch rather than breakfast. 

Other Stuff: This place is open all day and they also sell a small selection of fresh produce and baked goods to take away. 

Wallace & Co. on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Koya (& Where To Go If You Can't Get In)

It seems like a lifetime ago since I descended on Koya with a group that included fellow bloggers, The Grubworm, Uyen, and Tom & Jen. Unlike most noodle joints in town, Koya sticks to one type of noodle, udon, prepared in the following ways:
  1. atsu-atsu ~ hot udon in hot broth
  2. hiya-atsu ~ cold udon with hot broth
  3. hiya-hiya ~ cold udon with cold sauce (to dip or to pour)
    Now you might think this would be manna from heaven to a noodle-lover like me but the thing is, udon isn't one of my favourite noodles. I also prefer them stir-fried rather than in a soup or served cold. Combined with the hype generated by bloggers and critics, I was worried that this Japanese noodle specialist wouldn't live up to expectations.

    So it was with some apprehension that I ordered my niku atsu-atsu or beef w/hot udon in hot broth (£8.50). I needn't have worried, as the noodles were of a quality that I've never encountered before in udon, perhaps they do go with soup after all. And the broth was also mighty fine, clean and natural with the hint of ginger combining well with the spring onions. 

    Being a bit of a pleb, I also ordered some tanuki or tempura batter bits to go with my noodles. These added a different texture to the meal but who am I kidding, I just like batter scraps.

    The others went for different combos of
    atsu-atsu, hiya-atsu, and hiya-hiya, which met with universal approval. I particularly liked the look of Jen's tempura that came with her hiya-hiya. One of our party went for a donburi rice bowl, which may seem a strange order but as you might have guessed was competently done.

    However, much as I loved the noodles here, it was the small plates that I was most impressed with. In particular, the kakuni or braised pork belly with cider (£6) was truly outstanding – the 'melt in the mouth' cider infused pork belly combined wonderfully with the wasabi dip.

    We also enjoyed the other small plates of kamo roast (roast duck), kaiso salad (seaweed salad), and lenkon salad (lotus root & green salad). All in all, a great meal with great company that cost around £20/head with a round of drinks.

    I returned a week later but was a little disappointed by my special of prawn & seaweed atsu-atsu. Whilst there was nothing wrong with the seaweed and noodles combo, there was only a solitary prawn and I felt short changed. However, the kakuni was again to die for, this time with an added bonus of a spare rib. And my friend enjoyed her buta miso hiya-atsu although she struggled with getting the cold udon into the hot pork & miso paste broth – is there an easy way of doing this?

    Whilst Koya is pricier than many noodle options in London, I think its worth it and I'm pleased to report that this is one restaurant that lives up to the hype. I've also spotted some seating looking into the kitchen and I need to a bag a seat there next time.

    If you're not thoroughly bored with reading about this restaurant then check out reviews by The Grubworm and Uyen of our visit to Koya.

    Koya on Urbanspoon

    The first time I tried to go to Koya, it was shut, as it was the May Day bank holiday. I was gutted but I still had a craving for noodles so I popped across the other side of Shaftesbury Avenue to an old favourite, Rasa Sayang.

    Whilst there I realised that despite blogging about this Malaysian eatery twice before, I'd never blogged about my favourite dish there, fried fish vermicelli (£6.90). In Cantonese, this dish is called yu tou mai fenwhich translates as fish head rice vermicelli ! You can see this more clearly in the next photo.

    As well as the fried fish head, this dish includes fried fish, preserved veg, tomatoes, spinach, and rice vermicelli in a broth topped with fried shallots and spring onion. As with many of the best soup noodle dishes, it's the broth that makes the dish. In this case, the milky broth is different class, with fishy undertones cut through with the almost medicinal qualities of Chinese wine/tonic. This is an 'if Carlsberg did noodles' bowl of noodles and whilst fish head may not be to all tastes, it is in my opinion, one of the finest noodle dishes in London.

    Rasa Sayang on Urbanspoon

    The final restaurant in my round-up isn't really a substitute for Koya, as there isn't a branch of Hare & Tortoise in Soho. That said in the unlikely event that you are amongst a group that can't decide between Japanese and Malaysian food then this mini-chain is the place for you. I must admit this pick 'n' mix approach to East Asian cuisine put me off coming here for a long time even though the Bloomsbury branch is close to my office.

    Of their offerings, I prefer their soup noodles to their stir-fried noodles. In particular, I like the curry laksa (£6.25), which is generously topped with chicken, fried tofu, prawn, squid, and fish cake. Although this was a different variant to one I had at Kiasu, I thought the laksa here was superior.

    In contrast, my take-away yaki udon (£6), as pictured, was a bit lacklustre. Whilst it was good value and chock full of roast pork, squid, prawn, and crabstick, it lacked quality. The presence of crabstick was disappointing but I was more upset by the lack of garnish, such as pickled ginger and spicy fish powder that normally accompany Japanese fried noodles.

    Whilst Hare & Tortoise may lack the quality of the Koya's and Rasa Sayang's of this world, it's much better (and cheaper) than Wagamama. Overall a good value noodle option should you find yourself in the vicinity of a branch. 

    Hare and Tortoise Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

    Friday 9 July 2010

    World Cup - The Semis & The Final

    Well in the real World Cup, the final is going to be Holland v Spain. I'm not sure who I'd like to win, as I've always had a soft spot for the Oranje whilst the Spanish play the game as it should be played. Anyway enough of that football chat as I'm sure all of you are on the edge of your seat and want to see who wins my foodie World Cup. 

    Semi-Final: Japan 2 France 2 (France win 6-5 on penalties)
    It took ages to decide who would win this. Both countries have a food culture that strives for perfection with an attention to detail albeit from differing perspectives. It was a close game and the battles all over the pitch were nothing short of outstanding. I'm thinking kobe beef v chateaubriand, sashimi v assiette de fruits de mer, and whale v ortolan. Just kidding about that last one.

    I know many of you expected me to favour Japan but I love French food. It was a cuisine I properly discovered courtesy of being on expenses in Paris, a decade and more ago. It really opened my eyes to the food of the white man and I lapped it up. I haven't been to Japan and I'm sure my opinion would be very different if I had but the French prevail. Just.

    Semi-Final: Australia 0 Spain 2
    This is a far easier game to call. The Aussies have done well to get this far, when you consider teams like the USA and Italy have fallen by the wayside. But their run comes to a grinding halt against the Spanish. In common with many of their sports teams, it seems their food can't quite hack it at the highest level.

    There's not much that the Aussies can do better than the Spanish. They may point at their greater multicultural diversity but does that matter when Spanish food is that good ? To put it another way, I'd rather eat chorizo and gambas than a snag and a shrimp from the barbie.

    3rd/4th place: Japan 3 Australia 1
    I wish they'd scrap this game in the real World Cup, no one wants to play in it and usually it's a game where squad players get a run out. For completeness, Japan beat Australia in a game where the likes of katsu curry and pie floater make their first appearances of the competition.

    Final: France 1 Spain 2
    Having eulogised about French food, they lose out to the Spanish – why ? It's because the Spanish are the lost tribe of Chinese. Before you think I’ve gone totally mad, consider the following similarities:

    1) Small eats – both love small plates of food to share. The Spanish have their tapas whilst the Chinese have their dim sum and xiao chi. OK, the Spanish might drink beer rather than tea but hey the principle is the same.

    2) Seafood – both love seafood and not just your common or garden fish and prawns, they both like weird stuff and go to a lot of trouble getting it. After all there is a reason why the Spanish call the stretch of coastline where percebes are found, Costa da Morte.

    3) The Pig – both love all things porcine. To the Chinese, pork is the number one meat so much so that without a prefix, the word 'meat' in Chinese is understood to mean pork. Whilst the Spanish take great pride in their mighty jamon, and both races love suckling pig equally.

    So I'm sorry mes amis Français, Spain lifts the World Cup in my parallel universe by dint of being the lost tribe of Chinese. But would they have won in a truly global contest with contenders such as China, India, and Vietnam, as discussed in the first post in this series ? Probably not but they are worthy of being top dog in Europe.

    We'll now wait 'til Sunday to see if Spain can do the double and lift the football World Cup in addition to the foodie version. In the meantime, I'll have to pull my finger out and start work on my backlog of restaurant reviews !

    Update - Spain win the double, as they prevail in the real World Cup ! Congratulations ! For a more detailed Food World Cup, take a look at the World Cup Food Challenge blog.

    Monday 5 July 2010

    Riga - Part 2

    Without wishing to sound like a patronising idiot, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the restaurants in Riga and in this post, I'm going to round up three places that I'd happily recommend to visitors to Latvia's capital.

    The morning after the wedding reception felt like hell. I eventually roused and after a walk around Riga's charming Old Town met up with some of the guys in a bar-restaurant called
    Kalku Varti for a spot of lunch.

    Pretty much everyone went for the venison burger and chips with hair of the dog to drink. At the time, the burger tasted like the best burger ever but in reality, I doubt that was the case. That said, I recommend this place for its abundance of outdoor seating.

    For dinner, the newlyweds excelled themselves and arranged a group meal for all those who had travelled from the UK and further afield. The venue was Salve, which means welcome in Latvian, and this charming traditional restaurant certainly made us feel very welcome.

    I'll let the photos tell the story but suffice to say, we all enjoyed the hearty fare on offer. I had the chicken liver pâté with apple puree to start, fishcakes to follow and filo orange & apple dessert to finish. However, I wish I'd started with bacon with beans and had the three-meat sausage as a main.

    On the last night, Mr Pak Choi and I dined at the trendy KID restaurant (also in the Old Town). This was a Modern European joint that wouldn't have felt out of place in London. Mind you the service was too good and the prices too low for it to be a London eatery.

    There were amuse bouches but other than the sorbet, I can't remember what they were. I enjoyed my Asian-style fish consommé and PC liked his starter that looked like a dessert. My beef fillet was perfectly cooked, as was PC's lamb with celeriac jenga (my description) and both went really well with an excellent bottle of Pinot Noir from Oregon. A civilised end to an otherwise largely debauched weekend ! 

    Some Travel Tips
    If you're planning a trip to Riga then I recommend flying with Air Baltic with its twice-daily service from Gatwick. My flight cost a mere £85 including a check-in bag. Other options include Wizz with services from Luton and if you must, Ryanair from Stansted. 

    I stayed at the Old Riga Palace Hotel – this was very convenient and a short walk from the Old Town. However if you want to bling it up then the Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija with its 26th floor sky bar looks like a decent option.