Thursday, 26 January 2012

Gauthier Revisited. Twice.

After our first encounter, Gauthier and I kind of clicked, but there were probably still rough edges. So I went back to get totally convinced. Keeping it short and sweet this time round...

Autumn White Alba Truffle Risotto
I thought this was slightly OTT with a £20 supplement. Could I taste the difference? You bet. White truffle feels more subtle but structured. It doesn’t overwhelm with fat punches of aroma, instead the fragrance infiltrates and lingers and invigorates the palate; the longer it stays, the better it tastes.

Black Truffle Risotto
Peasants’ version - just playing.
This lacks the drama of the live truffle shaving, then again it’s £20 wallet-friendlier.

Scallops parsley & griolles
So fat - just such fat scallops, like the jumbo Hokkaido scallops. The usual masterly execution with the charred crispy edge and silken, creamy centre, cannot fault this dish.

Pheasant & Chestnut Cream sautéed Lettuce, Wild Mushroom & herb Gioza
Possibly my least favourite course here; visually unappetising, barely any hint of chestnut, more like mushy peas, and masked all the possible flavours of the pheasant.

Bembridge Lobster & Quail Egg
This felt like a posh prawn cocktail. I think the downfall was the lettuce, too drab and too common. The cold lobster meat (albeit chunky and sweet), lukewarm lettuce, out-of-place quail egg and flimsy dressing…nothing really came together.

Highland Venison & Williams Pear celeriac & Black Truffle, Caramelised
And Yes! This was spot on. Unquestionable.

Red Mullet & Capers purple Artichoke, confit Tomatoes & Taggiashe Olives, Purple Basil & Prawn Jus
I don’t’ remember now, so it wasn’t all that memorable, which could go either way.

Another star dish for me, potent, rich and fierce. In fact this dish has prompted me to choose game birds whenever I see them on the menu; the raw elegance is addictive.


Golden Louis XV
The posh KitKat? I’d like to know where to get it from. Is it good? Undoubtedly. Is worth an extra £10 as a dessert course? No. Not sure if this is served as a lunch dessert option, if so, get in.

Am I totally convinced? Hmmm, maybe not 100%... but that’s beyond the point now. Gauthier Soho has grown on me, the cosiness, the Maître’d, the truffle risotto, the menu etc. I get excited recommending this place to friends. Yea alright there are bad habits, like most fish recipes sound better than they taste, but I’m okay with that, just tell them.

21 Romilly Street
Tel: 0207 494 3111

Gauthier Soho on Urbanspoon
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Thursday, 19 January 2012

Kimchee - Hit & Miss

It just occurred to me this is my first post on Korean cuisine. We used to frequent Korean restaurants in our student days, Nara, Assa, Woo Jung, Arang, Dong San when it was still on Poland Street and even a random trip to New Malden; loved the huge variety of barbeque grill, hotpots, pancakes and bibimbap all for a price tag not too dear. I guess we grew out of sesame oil and decided Korean food is rarely truly bad but never excitingly exquisite. Then Kimchee on High Holborn got people talking; Korean friends approved its authenticity, foodies gave mixed reviews. 

Kimchee reminded me of Sake No Hana, high ceilings with black lacquered walls, only this is much more crowded. With the 50% off food (until the end of January) and that crazy 90-min queue in the freezing cold, we went wild with the orders. I had an urge to hand the entire menu back to our waiter saying ‘one of each’, but Mister had better sense. Oddly enough our waiter launched to elaborate his opinion on North Korea’s political flaws…yawn.

Yuk Hwae
Thinly sliced raw beef, sliced pear and egg yolk
With my new found addiction to raw beef, this was irresistible - the crimson meat and glowing yolk looked stunning. The beef was so soft and smooth it dissolved on tongue, full marks for texture. Problem was it didn’t leave any trace of flavours except for the crisp sweetness from the pear. The yolk was almost unnecessary; the silky texture didn’t need exaggerating and it didn’t taste of anything…

Jap Chee
Glass vermicelli noodles stir fried with beef and mixed vegetables
I can’t remember not ordering this in a Korean Restaurant. This thicker Korean vermicelli was full of bounce, just like how they should be. Jap Chee here is evidently less greasy than usual, the noodles clumped and clustered after a while. Again, flavours were mild and gentle on the sesame oil.

Cheese Dduk Bok Gi
Rice cakes with fish cakes served with vegetables in a hot spicy sauce topped with parmesan
This was the best of the evening, and spiciest. I’m a fan of rice cakes; springy tubes in viscous Korean spicy sauce topped with generous shavings of parmesan. The heat gradually builds up and slowly releases to give a good kick to the dense rice cakes, while the cheese powder had a brilliant cooling effect. Prime example of successful fusion.

Char grilled Scallops
Denice, obviously blessed with the most artistry among us, suggested the scallops are arranged as blossomed flowers and the chives as stems; that doesn’t change the fact one of my flowers was burnt and ugly. Though plump and visually enticing – swimming in a watery sauce - the bouncy meaty scallops were bland and lacked the oceanic sweetness. Not nearly good enough.

We ordered three portions so I can confirm Chef wasn’t just picking on me.

Short beef ribs marinated in a fruity sauce with onion and garlic
I don’t mind where the grilling takes place, kitchen or at the table; makes very little difference to me. Meat was scrumptious; soft and tender, great with the crunchy lettuce leaves. I thought the sauce resembled char-shui sauce; Mister disagreed.

Pork Bulgogi 
Thinly sliced pork marinated in a fruity sauce
Beef was good, pork was even better. The best bits were the slices / bundles with a margin of lard that dissolved into gorgeous meat juices…

Kimchee Jeon
Pancake with kimchee and vegetables served with a soy and chive sauce
Not how I’d like my pancakes cooked. This was almost deep-fried to give its crusty shell, which would have been fine if paired with thick juicy filling. But this came with sparse filling, little seasoning and no hint of that distinctive spicy and zesty kimchee detected.

Raw Beef Dolsot Bibimbap
Rice is a sizzling hot earthenware pot
A good old pot of rice as the temperature dips - can’t complain. Bibimbaps don’t usually go wrong, that said soggy rice, flimsy sauce and stingy veg can ruin it. This one ticked all the boxes. Perhaps a tad too light on the sesame oil that greases the pot, it wasn’t sizzling away that unique aroma.

Hot Pot Bulgogi
We didn’t actually order this, nor wanted this. We asked our waiter for his recommendation on the hot pot dishes. He then digressed to some random speech for 2 good minutes followed by a discussion on spiciness. With much effort on yanking the conversation back on track, we explained we wanted something super spicy and ended up with this – a sugary sweet broth with beef, rice cake and glass noodles.

So it’s no surprise that we didn’t enjoy the pot. The soup base was loaded with so much sugar my throat felt itchy with a couple of spoonfuls. The contents in the pot were repetitive considering what we have already ordered, more rice cake and more marinated beef… why we were recommended this I’d never understand.

Chocolate Mochi on the house

The massive pot for tea was hilarious, and of course impractical when we had two Winnie-the-Pooh honey pots sitting on our little table. My plum tea smelt of cough medicine but tasted deliciously fruity; Mister’s Korean rice tea was fragrant and beautifully roasted; Denice’s honey gingseng tea was miniscule.

The discount means we got away with all that grub for £46 for 3. Overall food was alright, some dishes were a little meek and cheap quality ingredient shows, but equally some items were pleasant surprises. The only pitfall really was our waiter; small talk is great, mindless babble is annoyance; being friendly is welcoming, drumming his fingers at our table in the middle of our meal and conversation is rude. Apart from him, it was quite a pleasant meal. While not everything on the table was spot on, I found dishes worth coming back for, provided the queue would die down after the discount period.

71 High Holborn
Tel: 0207 430 0956

Kimchee  on Urbanspoon
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Thursday, 12 January 2012

Yalla Yalla - Oh La La

Mister and I had been deciding on a place for dinner since we woke. While I had been authorised a free choice, the conversation went more or less like this:

Me: I feel like sushi… Atari-ya?
Mister: I’ve got a cold, can’t taste anything.
Me: Sichuan Folk to wake your buds?
Mister: Sore throat + spicy = lost voice
Me: Korean at Centre Point?
Mister: You don’t really like Korean.
Me: Meatliquor?
Mister: Not open on Mondays.
Me: Chinese at CT / I cook?
Mister: Too greasy / Too much work.

In short, he was being a woman. Just as I was about to explode, I found Yalla Yalla on my Eat list. And because Mister had no idea if Beirut was a rude word I just made up, he couldn’t quite protest. When we turned into a quite alley in Soho, he was finally intrigued by the bright yellow sign with odd scribblings (and maybe the dodgy staircase next door with ‘Models’ painted across the wall).

It was a brief 10-minute wait before a table freed up in this cosy little spot; deli counter cramped with less than 8 wooden tables. Since Mister is not a major fan of yoghurt and I don’t eat chicken breast, it didn’t take long for us to pick from the exotic menu.

Mint tea drew our memories back to the Moroccan days… I felt as though I was doing sugar shots, stirring a packet of sugar per glass, but it wouldn’t taste the same with the sweetness.

Makale Samak - Deep fried tiger prawns, calamari and white bait with spring onions, crispy aubergine and chilli minted Greek yoghurt
This was all I wanted – a generous bowl of well seasoned seafood in crispy light batter. The chilli Greek yoghurt was more cool than hot, but absolutely perfect with the goodies. These made my day. 

Just don’t expect tiger prawns, these were more like kitty prawns, but good bouncy ones.

Kibbe Nayye - Lamb tartar with spiced cracked wheat, spring onions, fresh mint and basil
I was feeling brave with the raw lamb, or I had roughly chopped steak tartar in mind. Not sure what to make of this, the meat was finely minced but grainy in texture, and it didn’t carry the flavours that comes with melted lamb fat, quite bland by itself. This got better when smeared inside the pitta bread with a healthy dose of salad and a dollop of chilli yoghurt. It was the salad that stole the show, energetically crunchy and refreshingly flavours with a squeeze of lime and a drizzle of olive oil.

Sawda Djej - Sautéed chicken liver with garlic and pomegranate molasses
The sauce was citrusy; so much so that my left eye was involuntarily twitching while my right eye remained firmly shut… Okay I knew it was supposed to be tangy, I just wasn’t prepared for it to be face-wrenchingly sour. The pomegranate seeds were bizarrely sweet. I get the theory with the dense, drab liver taking on a sharp kick, but really it was too much of a complete knock out.

Lahem Shawarma - Grilled thin slices of marinated lamb, grilled tomato, sumac, parsley and red pepper salad
So glad we shared a main, it’s a total calorie overload. The vermicelli rice reminded me of Hainanese chicken rice, fragrant with animal fat, all balanced off with yet another stunning salad. Lamb pieces were tender, juicy and bursting with spices, and still gorgeous the next day when it was reheated for lunch.

I thought Middle Eastern cuisine was all pretty similar until Yalla Yalla introduced me to street food beyond the usual kebab with garlic mayo. That said I won’t go overboard and say how I’m drooling over the keyboard, it was just a cute little place that was different, in a positive way. Nothing overly complicated about the food, but simply well-made. As for the pomegranate molasses, I blame it on cultural differences.

1 Green’s Court
Tel: 0207 287 7663

Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food on Urbanspoon
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Thursday, 5 January 2012

Androuet - Cheesy Affairs

Androuët has found its way to London. The century-old heritage French cheese-maker opened its specialist cheese shop in the Old Spitalfields Market with an adjoining miniscule dining room. And it really is tiny with four tables; outdoor seating is simply unpopular at 4 degrees.

It was the eve of Christmas Eve with too many people out and about looking for food in the empty market. Good thing we booked, so we secured a little table at the corner of the restaurant, other insistent diners were led into the closed cheese shop next door with tables wedged between the cashiers and cheese cupboards. Actually I’m not sure if it can be classed as a restaurant when it’s pretty much the same size as an en-suite bedroom.
Since I genuinely don’t know enough about cheese, and I won’t pretend to, I can only keep things to the simplest.

Authentic French Onion Soup
I was on a mission to find the most authentic French Onion soup a few months back, and what an epic fail that was. The trickiest bit is the definition of authenticity; it’s one of those dishes where flavours are totally personal.

This soup was good, especially on a chilly evening. Broth was packed with natural onion sweetness onions, which were cooked to their melting points so that they dissolved in mouth, topped with a chunk of cheesy toast. It was comforting. If anything I’d say I’m more accustomed to chunky soups and this was leaning on the watery side.

Wild Mushroom & Leek Cannelloni
There were two types of cheeses: a softer, smoother one melted inside the cannelloni and a more grainy, heady type made into a thin bed of sauce. Both in moderation, so neither an overkill nor sparked much chemistry. The cannelloni itself, however, wasn’t quite up to scratch; it was definitely undercooked as opposed to al-dente, so were the shreds of leeks sprinkled on top of the pasta rolls and the mushroom fillings were thin. All in all, a bit drab.

The Androuet Fondue served with a selection of charcuterie, bread and crudités
This fondue was absolutely divine; distinctively sweeter than usual with the 18months Comte & Emmental Grand Cru. Bayonne Ham from the charcuterie platter was delicate and the fragrance from the lard slowly diffused in gentle heat; saucisson slices didn’t quite go with the sweet cheese but overall a great fondue, all scooped up with a generous bread basket.

I originally wanted to get the Raclette, but was told this can only be eaten outside for safety reasons. Well I wasn’t going to brave the cold so settled for tartiflette instead. Layers of potatoes, bacon, onion, cream and topped with their own selected rich Reblochon cheese… sounds like potato daulphinoise with bacon to me…. so what if it is? Exactly what it says on then tin; nutty and soft Reblochon cheese with starchy potato slices and chunky meaty bacon cubes. While it wasn’t full of surprises, it was some great comforting winter grub.

Cheese Selection
As if we hadn’t had enough cheese for the first two courses, Mister opted for the cheeseboard to finish off. We were given the full list of cheese printed on font size 4 to choose from. Candle light and small fonts aren’t the perfect match, so our waitress kindly offered to put together a selection for us.

And the board was massive with all the accompaniments: toasted walnuts, quince paste, pear slices, grapes, figs, sultanas, yet another basket of bread and 6 different types of crackers. We were given two French and one Cornwall, and all they tasted, er, like how we’d like our cheese to taste. Frankly I couldn’t fit much else in so I can only say I enjoyed them. The Brie was particularly interesting, mellow and sweet, almost fruity.

Classic Crème Brulee
I preferred this sugary finish to my protein overload meal.

That was a lot of cheese to stomach in one evening, and that was probably only a fraction of what Androuet has to offer from its extensive list. To make the most of my visit, I should have made notes on the tasting notes and the origins of each sample, then I’d be able to articulate my preferences much better than just benchmarking ‘Roquefort’s too strong’. But after my second glass of wine, the heavily French-accented descriptions became too much of a blur and I was surely losing track of the varieties...  Androuet is brilliant; I’d probably return for an afternoon stopover and a cheese-fix snack/lunch. As for a fully cheese loaded 3-course dinner cramped in tiny room, once is enough.

Old Spitalfields Market
107 Commercial Street
E1 6BG
Tel: 0207 375 3168

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Androuet (Old Spitalfields Market) on Urbanspoon