Sunday 28 October 2012


Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities, and here are some of its sights seen through the filters of Instagram.

We stayed on Spuistraat, which had quite a Bohemian feel about it. I was particularly taken by the street art. I'd love to say we stayed at a commune, but we actually stayed at a hotel down the road.

Dutch food hasn't got the greatest reputation, but it does do what I call 'drinking food' very well. Take, for example, bitterballen; melty on the inside, crispy on the outside, these went really well with a beer or two. For good measure, we also ordered some kaasstengels (deep-fried cheese sticks).

A close cousin of bitterballen is krokotten (croquettes). These are typically served smashed on top of buttered soft sliced white bread with mustard.

I'm also a big fan of uitsmijter, which translates as 'bouncer'. Three fried eggs and ham (with optional cheese) served on a bed of, er, white bread is the perfect hangover cure after a night out on the beers.

Sadly, the Rijksmuseum remains closed until 2013. So we popped along to the nearby Heineken Experience, instead. My main interest was, naturally, in the retro beer art.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Thai Curry Noodles @ Vanduke

Thai curry noodles: three magical words that lured me to London's South Bank to check out Vanduke. I know it's very easy to be blasé about yet another street food van, but it's not as if these guys are serving up burgers or hot dogs. In fact, Vanduke offers a type of noodle I've not knowingly eaten before: kanom jin, a northern Thai noodle made from fermented rice.

The kanom jin noodles are available with a choice of three different toppings, and I went for the naam yaa neua, a beef red curry (the alternatives are chicken in wild ginger sauce and prawn coconut curry). This was one of the best bowls of noodles I've eaten in London in a long, long time. The beef curry had a decent kick from the galangal and lemongrass, and was liberally laced with pea aubergines. The garnish of fresh Thai basil and beansprouts offered a contrast in texture and tempered the fire of the curry a little. It also came with a soft-boiled egg whose runny yolk further enhanced this glorious dish (although on a second visit, the egg was sadly hard). And to cap it off, the rice noodles soaked all of this tasty goodness up. Delicious.

Being a street food van, I'm not sure whether Vanduke's pitch on the South Bank (by the Royal Festival Hall, next to Giraffe) is permanent, but it can be found there every day except Friday nights when it decamps to Hackney Downs Studios for Street Feast London. It's probably best to check their website or various social media feeds for their location. Anyway, regardless of where they pitch-up, just go, you won't regret it.

Thursday 18 October 2012

London Hall of Fame

The observant among you will have spotted that I've set up a new page called London Hall of Fame (this idea totally rip-offs was inspired by the B/A Pantheon) that features some of my favourite places to eat in the capital.

For those of you expecting Michelin stars and hot new openings, it isn't that kind of guide. It's not that I have anything against restaurants of that ilk; it's just that I'm not particularly well qualified to judge them.

What I am better qualified to judge, though, are restaurants where chopsticks are used, and I've put together a list of seven favourites that cater to different moods, palates and budgets. Delicate dim sum; spicy treats from Sichuan and Hunan; Vietnamese pho noodles and Cantonese BBQ all feature in my Hall of Fame.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Rijsttafel @ Tempo Doeloe

I was going to start this review with a double-entendre laden paragraph about how it's better to book in advance when visiting Amsterdam, as otherwise you may end up with something cheap and nasty at the end of the night. I'll spare you the cheap schoolboy innuendo, but the point certainly holds when it comes to eating out in the Dutch capital, which is why we ended up in a rather classy Indonesian restaurant called Tempo Doeloe.

In Bahasa Indonesian, tempo doeloe means 'old days'; the name is very apt, as I was meeting old friends for a rare get-together. In contrast to the irksome no-bookings trend sweeping London, this restaurant is open only to those that make a reservation. This rule is strictly enforced; to the extent that you have to ring the doorbell to be let in.

Pork Satay
When eating Indonesian food in the Netherlands, there is only really one option: rijsttafel. This concept of eating a giant spread of small dishes, from across the Indonesian archipelago, accompanied with rice was popularised by Dutch colonists. Nowadays, rijsttafel isn't that common in Indonesia, but it is very widespread in the Netherlands, where it holds a place in Dutch society analogous to that of Indian food in the UK.

Side Dishes
As we wanted to try as many dishes as possible, we decided to order the premier rice-table: Rijsttafel Istemewa (€37.50/head, min. 2 persons) – a magnificent feast comprising 25 different dishes. I won't list them all but I've linked to the menu if you want to check it out. I'm not going to pretend that the menu will be to all tastes, but when someone as fastidious as my mate, Mr Fussy, can enjoy around 85-90% of the dishes then it'd be fair to say there's something for everyone.

Mild Dishes
Medium Dishes
Yellow Rice
The food was brought out in a nice stagger, starting with pork satay served with a peanut sauce that had a nice spicy kick, along with some side dishes including kroepoek (spicy prawn crackers) and the famous gado-gado salad.

This was followed by a batch of six milder dishes, then six medium dishes, and finally, six spicier dishes. These were served with bowls of white rice and yellow rice, which were topped-up on request. Of the milder and medium dishes, my favourite was, surprisingly, a vegetarian dish: sambel goreng tempeh. I really enjoyed this fried soy-cake, which had a subtle nutty flavour that went well with the medium spicy sauce.

Spicy Dishes
Onto the spicier dishes, and one in particular left a profound impact: daging rendang. From the outset, we were warned about the potent nature of this dish. Firstly, the menu stated that the chef would show no mercy with respect to the chilli-heat levels. Our waitress then asked us if we were OK with the spiciness of the beef rendang. Mistaking this question as a direct challenge to our masculinity, we said yes.

The Killer Beef Rendang
With hindsight, we were a touch blasé about the rendang. After all, we'd eaten this classic dish before, and didn't reckon it could be that hot. Big mistake; upon tasting it, my brow turned sweaty, my face red, and on one of the few occasions in my life, I was left speechless. My coping mechanism was to try to temper the heat by sprinkling some fried coconut on top. That tactic proved as futile as using chopsticks to eat soup.

Equally futile was The Black Widower's attempt to douse the flames by eating pak choi. That would have been a good tactic, but for the fact that the vegetables were themselves a touch spicy. Mr Frosty wisely steered clear of the killer rendang as did Mr Fussy, if I'm not mistaken. (It turns out I was mistaken, as Mr Fussy did sample some rendang. I guess I was temporarily blinded by the spice. Apologies!)

At this point, we were facing ignominy and shame; fancy giving it the big one about being able to handle the spiciness then not being able to finish the dish off. Mercifully, The Italian Shetland Pony rode to the rescue by hoovering up the not inconsiderable remains of the rendang (he even polished off the fiery chilli garnish). And with that, our reputation remained intact, and more importantly, my old friend gained redemption for a shameful incident involving roast duck in Manchester's Chinatown.

To be honest, the food didn't have to be that good for us to have a good time; it's sometimes enough to be in good company. But the food was good, very good. As was the service, and the ambience. It helped that the restaurant was intimate and buzzing with a room full of satisfied diners. It's also great value; with a couple of beers each and a tip, the bill came to €250 between the five of us. I highly recommend Tempo Doeloe, but remember to book in advance or you might end up be eating at FEBO!

Tempo Doeloe, Utrechtsestraat 75, 1017 VJ Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Tel: +31-20-625-6718

PS: The photos have been enhanced, as the dining room was intimately lit and I was reluctant to use flash.

Sunday 7 October 2012

Kaosarn (The New One in Battersea)

Kaosarn first opened in Brixton Village last year, and it quickly gained a reputation for Thai food that's a cut above. So when I heard a second branch was going to open in Battersea, I was excited. I was right to be. I wasn't going to blog about my meal there, but I feel compelled to write a mini-review because I had such a great time.

We kicked off with deep-fried spicy chicken wings, deep-fried spare ribs and some moo ping (grilled pork skewers). These were all good, especially the moo ping. For mains, two of us went for the kao pad kra-praw (fried minced pork w/fresh chilli & holy basil topped with fried egg) while my other dining companion went with gang keaw warn (chicken green curry). Both dishes were a cut above the norm; in particular I enjoyed the refreshing holy basil that combined well with the hot chilli in the kao pad kra-paw. That said, the runny fried egg with crispy edges topped it off for me! My friend was also impressed that pea aubergines were served with the curry as opposed to cheap substitutes.

We also ordered som tum Thai and larb (with minced pork) as sides; these salads were refreshing yet spicy, and acted as a fine foil to the rest of our order. Service was decent enough, and the dining room of the new restaurant is a step up from the Brixton branch. In common with the original, it's great value and you're allowed to bring-your-own booze. In that respect it reminded me of the many excellent casual BYO Thai restaurants found in Sydney, and that's no bad thing.

Kaosarn on Urbanspoon

Kaosarn, 110 St John's Hill, London, SW11 1SJ (Tel: 020-7223-7888)
Nearest stations: Clapham Junction, Wandsworth Town

For a detailed review of the original Brixton restaurant, please click here.

Monday 1 October 2012

Lunch @ The Lawn Bistro

Perhaps it's an indication of how far the dining scene in London has developed that one, occasionally, feels underwhelmed when eating out. In particular, some of the capital's smarter postcodes have the dullest food. You know what I mean, parts of town where the food lacks imagination so as not to frighten the locals and their perceived 'vanilla' tastes. However, if one doesn't feel the need to be overly-dazzled by something too different then The Lawn Bistro, in genteel Wimbledon Village, pushes all the right buttons. Having said that, I'm probably doing it a slight disservice, as the food does have some flourishes.

Take the starters of leeks w/poached egg beignet, broad bean vinaigrette & summer truffles and squid & watermelon salad w/fennel puree, chilli, garlic & ginger. These excellently presented, well-executed, refreshing dishes hit the spot in the scorching early-September sunshine. Of the two, the former was the winner with its runny egg (with a wonderfully crispy exterior) perfectly complementing the leeks, generous helping of truffle shavings and tart broad bean salad. In contrast, my choice of squid could've done with a bit more chilli heat to act as a contrast to the refreshing watermelon.

Onto the mains, and the grilled chicken breast 'Paillard' w/herb gnocchi, mixed leaf salad & gremolata and crispy fillet of sea bream w/Spanish bean salad, sundried tomatoes, aubergine relish & courgette also hit the spot. Chicken can be dull, but the herb gnocchi and gremolata were the ideal accompaniment to the flattened chicken breast. I had no complaints about my perfectly cooked fish, and all of the elements of the dish worked well, especially the battered courgette.

Desserts in the form of poire belle Hélène and Valrhona chocolate mousse w/crème Anglaise & flapjack finished off the lunch nicely. After all, what's not to like about poached pear with cream, ice cream and chocolate sauce? And while a combination of chocolate mousse with flapjack may seem a tad unusual, not even its presentation atop a wooden slab could detract from my friend's enjoyment.

Combined with professional service, that mercifully stayed the right side of over-familiarity, and an airy, elegant dining room, The Lawn Bistro proved to be a most agreeable lunch venue. Considering its prime location in Wimbledon Village, Sunday lunch was priced fairly at £29.50/three courses and one can very easily get away with paying £50/head with wine and 12.5% service. All in all, this restaurant is a welcome addition to the Wimbledon dining scene, and it's good to see an indie take on the chain-mediocrity of the likes of Côte et al. Mind you, I wouldn't go so far to call it a destination restaurant for those without a SW postcode.

The Lawn Bistro on Urbanspoon

The Lawn Bistro, 67 High Street, Wimbledon, London, SW19 5EE
(Tel: 020-8947-8278) Nearest station: Wimbledon