Thursday, 30 August 2012

Kopapa – Fusion without Confusion

Last time we visited Kopapa for brunch was a bank holiday, and the limited menu meant I couldn’t truly appreciate what it has to offer. But Lawson said it was good, so I’m giving it the benefit of doubt.

Kopapa is perfect for our girls’ dinner; chillax ambience with music that doesn’t drown our conversation nor suppress our giggles, plus a diverse menu that allows sharing. We were more drawn to the longer list of small plates, lots of interesting ingredients that we hadn’t heard of. To set the right mood for the evening, we started with a couple of cocktails: Berry Bomb, Spring Breeze and a glass of Gayda.

Miso sweetcorn with spicy green beans & crispy shallots
This was quite fiddly to eat, but we were allowed to use our fingers with the bowl of warm finger water. The sweetcorn was not overly sweet, as the sugars were reined by the thin glaze of miso umami, just juicy and crunchy niblets. The accompaniments were a little sloppy though; green beans were limp and sweated, mixed with some equally lifeless shallots. Had the spice been more detectable, it would have given an extra dimension to the flavours. Not bad overall.

Spring rolls of slow roasted pork, tamarind aioli
These rolls were absolutely packed-out, choke-full, jam-packed with torn pork. In fact the bits were so crammed to compactness, it looked like one slab of meat wrapped in a thin crispy sheet. We had to re-disintegrate the pork to loosen the roll up. Though the meat was tender and moist, the spring roll was still lacking in juices, making it a bit harsh in texture; there are only so many bites one can drown in aioli.

Pomegranate glazed lamb breast with Turkish yoghurt
This was my favourite of the evening. The lamb was beautifully grilled to soft-on-tongue perfection, each piece had a small streak of fat attached to boost the lamb tang. The light pomegranate glaze gave a subtle citrusy lift to the creamy yoghurt and added a twist to the tender meat. It was a mini kebab; lighter on spice and grease without compromising the satisfying flavours.

Spice-battered prawns with tamarind & pineapple chutney
Can’t say I was overly impressed by the presentation, the batter was either falling off the prawns or formed a massive bubble around it. I was wrong. Turns out the batter was surprisingly thin, just giving an extra crispiness to the already very crunchy prawns. The pineapple chutney was adequately sweet to add an exotic touch. I only wish there was more of it. The tapioca balls were great with the chutney, especially when mixed with cubes of pineapple, the contrasting textures were interesting.

Pan-fried cauliflower polenta, black figs, girolles & parmesan shavings
Hmm... this was the only large plate we went for, but hmm... I don’t remember the details. The flavours came together very well with the fruity sweetness from the figs. However the blocks of fried polenta were dehydrated, and the breadcrumb coat didn’t help. I’m not sure.

Peanut butter parfait with Original Beans 75% Piura Cirollo chocolate delice, sea salt caramel & chocolate crumble
Anything with peanut butter, I’m in. Parfait was smooth, but also airy to take out the usual denseness. The essence wasn’t overwhelming, more like a subtle fragrance that supported the rich, indulgent dark chocolate delice. Personally I would prefer stronger peanut butter flavours, but this was a great finish to the meal.

Sorbet: Strawberry & lemongrass, Peach & cinnamon
This one didn’t go down so well, the two flavours were oddly similar, and both tasted like bubble gum. I’m sure at some point one person mentioned it was akin to fruity condom flavours... Ahem. No, the massive slab of gingerbread didn’t win our hearts either, it was more like a rock rubbed with raw ginger.

Blueberry baked ricotta, peach slices
Looks beautiful with peach slices shaped like little flowers. Delish.

My previous brunch here was less exciting, the steak sandwich was mediocre, under-seasoned and under-dressed; the French toast had nothing on my homemade version; the chorizo hash was the best of the lot.

This meal, however, was great, I liked having a bit of internationality on the table. It was clear where each dish originated, all with a little twist to make them unique. Nothing too adventurous to render the recipe out of sorts, and unlike some fusion restaurants, Kopapa didn’t force the marriage of any cuisine in particular. It was just a good menu; the food was as easy-going and casual as the ambience. In terms of sharing, the small plates were not that much smaller than the large ones, what we had was substantial and left just enough space in our stomachs for dessert.

32-34 Monmouth Street
Seven Dials
Covent Garden
Tel: 0207 240 6076

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Thursday, 23 August 2012

Pizarro completes Jose

A few months back I had a beautiful afternoon at Jose, no-nonsense tapas with top quality ingredients, washed down with easy going wines. So when I was put on the spot to pick a place for dinner on my turf, Pizarro was an easy choice. Better still I bumped into a Spanish ex-colleague on my way – good vibes.

Pizarro has the exact same theme as Jose, just 4 times bigger minus the barrels plus seats. A weekday evening and the place was in full swing by 8. Lucky for us it was only a 5min wait before we were seated at the white marble bar. Not so lucky for the people after us who clogged up the doorway. We (I) chose (forced) a bottle of light Tinto Fino and the gent, being a gent, let me get away with it. I think he did subtly make a point of it by giving up on the menu all together. Except he pushed for the day’s special lamb that our waiter described so well... or perhaps he’s just illiterate? Anyway...

Cod tongues, red cabbage, pine nuts
Cod tongue is the small piece of from the collar of the fish and it is amazing. I have had them deep-fried before, encasing the wobbly, silken collagen in a crispy shell. Pizarro’s pan-fried version is lighter, maximising the delicate slithery textures; it was like the bone marrow of fish, oily, rich and melt-in-mouth.

Duck livers, fino, caramelised onions, capers
When I ordered this, I had Capote y Toros’ duck liver carpaccio in mind. Silly me. So here we have two slabs of duck liver in a thin broth. The livers were overcooked, and had gone pass the moist creaminess into a density of parched mass. Soaking in the broth helped, but it also watered down the dish and washed out the flavours. I would have preferred the wine more reduced so the onions can keep their sweetness.

Slow roasted leg of lamb, baby potatoes, piquillo
Our waiter did a brilliant job selling this as the day’s special. This large leg appearing on the plate had a rather theatrical effect.

The skin was slowly roasted to wafer thin crispiness, and the roasting got rid of all the excess fat under the skin, taming in the characteristic lamb milk flavours. I wouldn’t say it was fall-off-the-bone tender, it took a little of tearing to yank a chunk of muscle out for the gent. That said the meat was succulent, lightly seasoned with delicate flavours. I prefer the pig.

Iberico pork pressa, baby potatoes, spring onions, almonds
My addiction to pink Iberico pork has spiralled out of control; these thick slices of crimson-centred shoulder loin, well-rested with juices packed in the muscles, promising intense meaty flavours in its most tender form... I was on Happy Piggy Land. And it tasted as good as it looked. The grilled exterior got some fat juices running but sealed the succulence in; the coarsen textures blended with the sashimi-like centre to bring out the best of the pork. Highly addictive and the hunky portion made it more satisfying than Jose’s pluma iberica.

I wasn’t mad about the sides though, especially the over-roasted potatoes. The almond puree was okay, just that the pork was already stunning on its own.

Despite serving larger plates here, dishes are still relatively light. Unlike Opera Tavern and Tendido Cero, where almost every tapas was paired with a thick reduction, Pizarro kept most of them clean with simple seasoning, sticking to the same idea as Jose. Me like. Very much.

194 Bermondsey Street
Tel: 0207 378 9455

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Thursday, 16 August 2012

Tonkotsu – Ramen Rediscovered

Tonkotsu translate to pork bones. And pork bone soup base is one of the most popular ramen soup bases around.  Generally people see ramen as the yellowy eggy noodles in soy / chicken broth with dumplings or Japanese char-siu or whatnots, which are mostly Tokyo style ramen. But ramen varies by regions, and my personal favourite is undoubtedly the miso-rich Sapporo ramen.

Judging from the success of Burger & Lobster, small menus are in fashion at the moment. The menu here couldn’t be simpler: 3 ramen choices: pork, spicy pork or vegetarian. 3 gyoza (dumpling) choices: pork, prawns, or vegetarian. And a couple of sides.

Tofu Hiya Yakko
The block of cold tofu was surprisingly generous. I drizzled the wobbly block with some soy sauce to give it a bit of colour.

Silken and delicate textures akin to creme caramel; subtle soy flavours, brought out by crunchy spring onions and bonito flakes. Clean and refreshing.

Tonkotsu serves Hakata ramen originated from Kyushu prefecture. The broth, made from extensive boiling of pork bones, pooling in the goodness of fat, collagen and cartilage to give a thick, creamy texture. The soup base here also mixed in some chicken stock. The contrasting dots of aromatic black sesame oil floated on top of  the milky broth, along with the glowing yolk of the soft boiled egg - it was picture perfect.

I started with a ladle of soup - beautifully seasoned with sea-salt, packed with piggy goodness and finished with a glutinous stickiness. Gorgeous. Unlike the eggy Tokyo ramen, the Hakata soba noodles are straight and thin, which allow the rich soup to 'cling' better, and so brings more flavours in every mouthful and slurp. The noodles were cooked perfectly, bouncy with a chewy centre. And I wouldn't expect less as I sat at the bar, I could hear the regular beeping of chef's timer.

The pork belly was probably too fatty, even by my standard; a couple of slices were 60% lard. I had to go easy on my arteries. The soft-boiled egg, on the other hand, was spot on; not dissimilar to the Chinese tea leaf egg, seasoned with five spices, together with a glorious gooey yolk. It was on par with the legendary onsen egg.

Compared to Koya, I prefer Tonkotsu. Partly because I prefer ramen to udon, but also I felt this meal was more accomplished and satisfying. Definitely a personal preference as opposed to quality discrepancies. They encourage slurping here, like the authentic noodle bars in Japan where men makes ridiculously noises sucking up the ramen. I couldn't quite bring myself to do it. But it's a nice effort to introduce some authenticity to the restaurant.

63 Dean Street
Tel: 0207 437 0071

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Thursday, 9 August 2012

St John Bread & Wine - Madeleines

 St John restaurant has always interested me, but the Barbican / Farringdon area is so out of place to me that I can rarely find an excuse to visit. St John Bread and Wine, on the other hand, is so conveniently located opposite Spitalfields Market. I was finally in a mood for some British fare in a lazy Sunday afternoon, and so we found ourselves pedalling our way here. 

Decor is, er, lacking. It reminded me of the sanatorium in Shutter Island; white tiles, unvarnished wooden tables and the steel counters at the open kitchen. But the atmosphere was bustling. While we were munching on bouncy sourdough from the famous bakery of St John, I had already decided on my dessert - madeleines.

Crispy Pig's Skin, Chicory & Mustard 

The pig skin was sliced into thin strips; more hard and crunchy than crispy, but softened as it soaked up the dressing. Fresh veg with a gently prickling creamy mustard, rich yet refreshing.

Snails, Back Fat & Oakleaf 
The snails were very different to what I was expecting. Stripped of the usual parsley and garlic butter, simply poached to springiness; the earthiness is even more pronounced. Perhaps not overly exciting by themselves, but together with lumps of spongy batter, oozing with the slightly sweet dressing, they made an oddly good couple.

Rabbit, Carrots & Aioli
Rabbit was in both 'today's special' starter and main course. It's always a dangerous choice, as rabbit meat more often than not gets overcooked and becomes parched and grainy. St John does it quite well, muscles remained firm and succulent, not dissimilar to the textures of chicken thigh. It's still a long way from the rabbit dish I had back in Pied a Terre, but as far as honest, straightforward cooking goes, this was adequately good.

Pigeon, Beetroot & Watercress
This came very pink, and became scarily red as the beetroot spilled its juices. A safe combination with the sweetness of beetroot taming the metallic hints in the bloody game. It was quite one-dimensional, however, perhaps it wasn't powerful enough, the dish didn't quite punch through to leave much behind.

Madeleines (15mins)
These were insanely scrumptious, likely crazily insanely scrumptious. We had them in a takeaway paperbag because I wanted to eat them with a macchiato in a coffee bar next door. I resisted, trust me I really did, but that divine buttery smell of freshly baked madeleines penetrated through my will power and my resistance was in vain. I had to reach in for one as I was tapping my pin in.

The warm madeleines were airily light, like whiffs of rich buttery breaths that diffuses throughout the body, with just enough substance to hold its bounce. The sweetness was spot on too, just sweet enough to keep me reaching for another one. My god these were so good they should be illegal.

I think the madeleines may have overshadowed the main part of the meal, because they were too good. Or perhaps the mains were simply not that remarkable or memorable to register in my little brain. In hindsight, I should have gone for something porky, afterall that cute pig associated with the St John franchise must mean something. I'll save that for my visit to the Michelin-starred Restaurant.

94-96 Commercial Street
E1 6LZ
Tel: 0203 301 8069

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Sunday, 5 August 2012

Burger & Lobster & Roll in Soho

No I haven't forgotten I have already posted about B&L a few weeks ago. Burger & Lobster opened its doors at Soho on Dean Street. For those who hated the queue at the Mayfair restaurant, the new one is better. Well, slightly - It's at least 50% bigger and they take bookings for parties of six or more.

We went for the steamed whole lobster with grilled finished, lemon & garlic butter again. And I'm so pleased to say it was as perfectly done as our first visit; sweet, juicy chunky lobster muscle. So much pleasure.

As we were about to get the bill, we were joined by Michael West, the general manager of Pollen Street Social, and he was on a natural high. After a couple glasses of wine, he offered us half of his lobster roll, the roll that I couldn't bring myself to order because I thought it was too small. Michael probably feels the same, which is why he told us it was actually his starter. And dammit the famed lobster brioche roll was everything people make out of it, and better. The gently crisp from the toasted brioche, along with the fragrant buttery breath, followed by moistened lobster meat, exuding with sweet juices. Unbelievable. If there could ever be an exquisite sandwich, this defines it.

And Michael also treated us to half of his main course: the burger. The burger that costs as much as a whole grilled lobster. It arrived glittering with black and white sesame on the bun. The patty was thick and emanating beefy essence, meat juices locked in and the greasy aroma lingered long after the tender patty. It was one very good burger. Would I pay £20 for it? Probably not. Would I choose it over lobster? Hell no.

We munched on Michael's second portion of fries, opened the second bottle of wine...

Absolutely fantastic evening at a fabulous place.

36 Dean Street
Tel: 0207 432 4800

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