Thursday, 29 November 2012

Bubbledogs Hits the Spot

Bubbledogs and I started off on the wrong foot. I wasn't in town for their grand opening, since then the queue only got longer. I was turned away at 9 at my first attempt; same for my party of 6 during my second attempt; third attempt was called off. Finally, on a dreary raining Saturday, we decided to make an early 11:45 start to beat the queue. I was still 30mins late but luckily my girls have better sense of time to secure our seats.

I heard the queue starts promptly at 12:01 as the early birdies take the first round of seating. I think it sits about 30, with people cramping stools around shared tables. The champagne and hotdog bar follows the trending winning formula of keeping it hip and simple, bricks and wood, 1 A5-pager menu on a clip board plus a bar with f-loads of champagne.

I have never consciously had growers champagne before, and wikipedia quotes "artisanal winemaking" that focus on reflecting the characteristics of the terroirs of the villages within the Champagne region. Perfect. We started off with a fruity, wallet-friendly Gaston Chiquet. There is something beautifully dizzy about having champagne as the first drink of the day.

It's the egg and black pudding bits that got my attention, wouldn't be brunch without a good yolk. The pork dog was wrapped with bacon, with tomato relish smear on the bread and a neatly trimmed sunny-side-up, sprinkled with bits of black pudding. Gotta say it was a winning combination. 

The dog on its own was a little too heavy on the seasoning for my liking, especially with the bacon adding the extra lump of salt. (and after 2 glasses of bubbly I couldn't stop laughing about what it looked like!) But the sweet tomato relish and runny yolk reined it all back in balance. Bread, disappointingly, was uninteresting.

Alva was underwhelmed at first, truffle essence was barely there despite the heavy loading of the mayo. The truffle was more pronounced when I tasted the mayo on its own, but like Breakie, the bacon wrapped dog was quite salty, which destroyed the delicate fragrance. Careless design maybe; I have a feeling this would work better with a beef dog.

Trishna Dog
I love how Denice and I never choose the same thing; this could the last dog I'd pick from the list. Probably because I see this topping combination had an Indian spin, and Indian flavours are not crafted to pair with pork or beef. I'm just old-fashioned.  I forgot to nip a bite of this, but it did look fabulous.

Sweet potato fries & tots
The fries were quite addictive; super sweet and super mushy on the inside, looked a bit burnt on the outside, but it's what it takes to give them the crispy shells. 

Tots were too hard on the shell and too skinny on the potatoes.

Did Bubbledogs live up to hype and justify the ridiculous queues? Yea I think so, but not because the hotdogs were out-of-this-world; I thought the dogs themselves were rather mediocre, but the topping combos make things interesting. If I was in a mood for a good dog, I'd probably head for Big Apple. That said the ambience is unique. Bubbledogs have created a unique spot for any occasion, the pairing of street food with the posh champs in a buzzing room... you can take anyone there.

70 Charlotte Street
Tel: 0207 637 7770

Bubbledogs on Urbanspoon
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Sunday, 25 November 2012

L'Eto Caffe - Rude Cakes

I didn't have anything particularly nice to say about L'Eto a year ago. We were after tea and cake yesterday and this was our closest call as the grey sky continued to piss all over London.

We waited for a 15mins or so for a table, then we were cramped at the end of a larger table and one of us had to move out of the way everytime the larger party needed to get to the till, which was every 3mins. So we moved ourselves to a more comfortable table and got yelled and barked at by the staff. He wouldn't leave us alone until we pointed out that all other parties of 3 in the room get 2 small tables pushed together! Pure rudeness.

Raspberry tart & Passionfruit tea
The tea looked quite silly and the the colours were worrying, but smelt gorgeous.

It was a good tart with rich mascarpone, not too sweet with a buttery crumbly shell.

Ricotta Cheesecake & Blueberry tea
This pot of tea looks even more poisonous than the passionfruit.

I don't like sultanas and there are plenty of sultanas mixed with the cream cheese. Interestingly it tasted very similar to the raspberry tart, only a bit coarser.

Millefeuille & macchiato
The cream was gorgeous and the berry jelly kept the weightiness off. Way too thin with the pastry though, especially in the middle. 

Frankly it was very difficult to enjoy anything they serve when the server has been so rude, from pointing us to stand at 3 different spots during the wait, to barking at us when we took a free table. So it was not surprise the 2 take-aways I bought for my brother were much nicer.

Pasteira Italian Cheesecake
This was a perfect slice of cheesecake, dense and rich with a hint of citrus. The best part is the pearl barley mixed into the cheese, adding some chew to the richness. I loved it.

Truffle bar
Not as strong and chocolatey as I expected it to be, but the nuttiness were scrumptious with nut shavings and flakes of puff pastry. I'd order this again.

In short, better than last time but absolutely no way I'd be eating in again. And I will refuse service from that barker when I pick up my next order.

L’Eto Caffe
155 Wardour Street

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Blueprint Cafe - Tower Bridge laid out

It's difficult to find a decent restaurant in London Bridge. Yes Bermondsey Street is slowly filling up, but the riverside is still rather lacking. I was suggested the Blueprint cafe in the Design Museum, overlooking the Tower Bridge on Shad Thames. 

The location was unbeatable. The restaurant had a vast open space, full-length window that opens up to Thames and the Bridge. There were binoculars on each table in case the massive bridge wasn't clear enough.

Smoked Yellowfin tuna, lime & soy dressing, macerated vegetables
Thick slices of tuna was delicately smoked to give a thin rim of fishy essence, flavours were locked in and well-hung with a matt finishing. There is a touch of fusion here in the soy sauce. The lime juice had the same citrusy grapefruit effect in yuzu dressing, followed by a nose-prickling punch from the wasabi-infused dollop of mayo. Delish.

Cromer crab, avocado, elderflower
Simple and usual combination of crab and avocado. Generous portions of shredded crab meat was mixed with creamy mayo and a thin smear of avocado puree on the side. Not the sweetest and freshest of crab meat, but more than good enough. Lots of light touches to lift the weight richness; succulent, a bit hairy, leaves released refreshing juices, and chef resisted the temptation of loading the plate with avocado. 

Slow poached & roast duck egg, polenta, mushroom
It doesn't look like a poached egg; but it really was. The egg still had the runny, gooey yolk that leaked and trickled over the rest of the dish. I think I get it; a poached egg is too moist and the deep fried polenta becomes soggy, so it was briefly roasted to get rid of excess water to firm up the dish and avoid diluting flavours. 

It tasted great, the balsamic essence was sweeter than usual and gave a nice twist to such familiar combinations. That said I thought it was quite dry, the crispy shell almost sucked all moisture from my mouth and nothing compensated it. Perhaps a bit of fragrant olive oil on the mushrooms?

Heather honey infused Aylesbury Duck, turnip gratin, swiss chard
There was a lot going on on this plate, and every section was scrumptious. The duck breast was light, beautifully cooked with a touch of pink and a crispy skin.  The lump of duck leg was tender, succulent and glazed with a slightly sweet jus. The turnip gratin was a great alternative to the usual potato dauphinoise, less heavy on the stomach, sweeter and juicer and added a unique twist.

We didn't stay for desserts given it was a weekday sneak-out-of-the-office lunch. But I like what I have seen so far. I like how museums now care about their restaurants, another example is Whitechapel Gallery, they are serving more than pastries and coffees. Blueprint isn't perfect or extraordinary, the kitchen is still experimenting, but they have a firm grasp of the basics and they make the effort. If anything, the view definitely makes up for the flaws.

Design Museum
28 Shad Thames
Tel: 0207 378 7031

Blueprint Cafe on Urbanspoon
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Thursday, 15 November 2012

La Chapelle - Stars under the Galvin Roof

It's my brother's birthday and he deserves somewhere classy. Afterall he is all high-end fashion nowadays, I wouldn't like to look to shabby next to him. Original choice was Duck & Waffle to wow him with the view, but decided against it as the menu wouldn't have changed much since my last visit. La Chapelle then came to mind. 

Bristro de Luxe was great, Windows at Hilton was good, though I felt too much like a tourist, and I'd imagine La Chapelle has the right balance; proud French with a dose of London, but not ostentatiously attractive to our visitors. The discrete entrance gave none of the glamour on the inside away; the conversion was evident with the dome high ceiling and candle chandeliers, darkly lit but oozing with grandeur. We settled with a couple of glasses of wine as we munched on olives.

Pressed ham hock, crispy pig's ears, piccalilli
The simple starter was nice enough. The ham slices were beautifully smoky with a melt-on-tongue tenderness.  The crispy pig's ears added some thrill to the mix, and possibly the best pig's ears I have had too; they were deep-fried to the point of disintegration. I wasn't so sure about the piccalilli though, thought it tipped the sourness over and ruined the delicate flavours of the other ingredients.

Fillet of pickled mackerel, shaved fennel, creme fraiche & cranberries
The fish filet was so shiny I was it was raw. And it probably was. The mackerel was not dissimilar to the Japanese marinated saba, silky soft flesh gently pickled and a generous cut of the oil-packed belly. The sweetness of blueberries reined in the acidity, and pairing berries with this seemingly familiar flavour was refreshing and appetising.

Pave of cod, ratatouille & samphire
The meal stepped into the next gear with the cod. The cod fillet was glowing when it arrived at the table, flesh was translucent and the fish was barely held together by the ultra crispy skin. The cod flakes were firm but slithery, soft but not mushy, it was the perfect fish. Simply stunning.

Roast grouse, winter roots
Ah a warm deep-autumn gamey dish, just what I needed on a chilly evening. Beautifully red in the centre, powerful muscles with bloody, metallic flavours, most satisfying combinations with sweet beets, creamed cabbage and roasted potatoes. The jus had a sticky, honey glaze to it, which added a sweet tone to the strong ensemble. 

Warm plum tart, clotted cream
Brother's warm plum tart had a rich buttery crust with a smooth centre. Neither of us are fans of plum desserts, but we agreed good restaurants and pastry chefs have the power of making things we don't usually like taste good. This was one of the them.

Reblochon, raisin puree
The presentation of this common cheese made this more interesting; mild, chewy and nutty near the edges. Perfect finish.

La Chapelle is really quite impressive. The crowd was mainly the suited and booted business bunch, and perhaps a few romantic pairs who had been anticipating the date throughout the day, but we were comfortable enough as there was a constant buzz around us. Food was classic recipes with impeccable execution, no audacious moves, just keeping the quintessential current and glowing with finesse.

35 Spital Square
E1 6DY
Tel: 0207 299 0400

Galvin La Chapelle on Urbanspoon
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Friday, 9 November 2012

Nagomi - Too little Too late

Nagomi is not my natural choice, because I sincerely think I have my Japanese joints lined up and sorted - Tetsu or Shiori on pay-days other days Atari-ya would do. This Japanese resto near Oxford Street was actually a choice out of considerate location-oriented choice as I was lugging it from Reading. 

The tiny restaurant was simplistic and quite cosy; minimal decor except for one set of garland lights awkwardly attached to the wall with a bundle of tangled cables under the table. We were seated bang in the middle of the dining room, almost touching elbows with our neighbours despite the number of empty tables around us. Menu was diverse with the usual Japanese fare, we (I) went for a bit of everything.

Seasoned Baby Squid
I was so excited to see this on the menu. I am a massive fan of this unique appetiser, the slimy bouncy slithery squid marinated in strong, pungent alcohol and a bit of squid ink. Balls of flavours, absolutely gorgeous.

Grilled pork skin with ponzu
The rest of the meal were rather uninteresting. This grilled skin was probably the worst offender. I was hoping for a thin crispy shell encasing squidgy semi-liquid mouthful of piggy grease... But no, just metal-hard, plastic-like deep-fried inedible strips. The dressing was barely noticeable and nothing could be done to soften the skin. It was poorly executed.

Grilled ox tongue
Though served on a sizzler, these slices were limp and lifeless by the time they arrived. I prefer them on skewers, gently charred on the edges with a hint of smokiness from the coal grill, sprinkled with sea salt and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice. The paleness of these ox tongue slices suggest the grill wasn't hot enough, and so sweated all the juice and flavours out of the muscles.

Ikura gunkan
Not bad. Seaweed was impressively crisp, ikura was clean and sweet but the sushi rice was leaning on the loose side. 


I hadn't had deep-fried pork cutlet for ages; with an egg topping, it used to be my favourite Jap dish when I was at uni. Tonkatsu was never my favourite though, I'd rather have teriyaki if my katsu-don is sold out. I think it's the odd prickly aftertaste in the sauce that I don't like, and it's all rather dry. As you can see, the pork chop wasn't thick enough, definitely to lean to ooze glistening juices. Atari-ya at Hendon does it much better.

When I was researching for a good bowl of ramen a couple of months back, this came up as a contender. And I have to admit, it looked pretty damn good. Thick, milky soup with golden sesame and black sesame oil drizzle, topped with a thick cut of pork belly. Oddly enough the soup was flimsy, and the pork bone essence wasn't very pronounced. Nothing like the gelatinous soup at Tonkotsu

Needless to say I didn't think much of this meal. Perhaps 10 years ago, when Londoners were generally less particular about Japanese food, Nagomi would have been fine. But as more restaurants specialise in yakitori, sushi & sashimi and ramen & soba bars, these half-hearted generic restaurants simply don't cut it anymore. They either had to go high-end and serve black cod or go homemade with faultless heart-warming dishes. Nagomi is floating mid-way with Central London prices and mediocre cooking.

4 Blenheim Street
Tel: 0207 165 9506

Nagomi on Urbanspoon
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Saturday, 3 November 2012

London Coffee

Coffee culture in London is interesting. The City has almost taken up the American addiction to coffee giants, each building has their own Starbucks or Costa nested in because the free flowing caffeine in coffee machines just doesn't complete the look. That's just the City. Then there's the more 'serious' coffee crowd, the ones with their grinders at home and chat about the difference between the 20% Ethiopian and 45% Venezuelan blends. You know, the cool coffee geeks.

I'm no coffee expert, but I like a good macchiato, if not a good double espresso would also start my day on the right foot. And I have learnt it the hard way to never, ever order an espresso from any chains. It looked like engine oil, and tasted like ink.

I have written about Prufrock @Present. Since then Gwilym has opened up his proper coffee display space in Leather Lane.  And it’s almost like a coffee forum, lots of coffee geeks getting their beans grinded and discussing extraction. To get some technical fundamentals right, I signed up to Prufrock’s private masterclass, got my head around some graphs and recipes, did a bit of latte art and tried various methods. Then I attended a cupping session at Protein, a hidden workshop in Shoreditch, where I got the aromas and flavours straight.

Prufrock Coffee on Urbanspoon

I think the Aussies kicked this off in London, sourcing from different brewers and working with smaller roastery. Then the Kiwis took it up a notch… I have been getting my fixes in the small cafes below, all serving Square Mile seasonal roasts as the main stream, but offer other blends upon request.

Giddy Up Coffee

This espresso machine on wheels made the best flat white I have ever had. Ever. It was back in early summer, the blend was light with minerals and carried the floral tone of filter coffees. I found the cart just off Great Eastern Street last time, but heard he has a more regular weekday spot in on Fortune Street.

Nude Espresso
One of the micro-roastery near Brick Lane. It was mid summer and I thought my espresso was too salty. For the same blend I think Prufrock does it lighter by 2 seconds and it made all the difference to me. Judging from the traffic, however, I could be in the minority.

Nude Espresso on Urbanspoon

Coffee Curator

I came across the Curator by chance. I’m based in the neighbourhood for the time being, and thought this reminded me of the Chin Chin Lab. My macchiato was quite heavy-handed, but given it’s deep fall it was fine. I’d pick this over Taylor Street Barista purely because it’s a much less hectic space.

Coffee Workshop Marylebone

Another one I stumbled on by chance, behind Selfridges.

Taylor Street Barista

And who doesn’t know TSB? I’m glad they came to Canary Wharf, albeit late. And I prefer the CW store, as I couldn’t help feeling like going through a conveyor belt at Liverpool St. I know I know, Italians do their one stop stand-up espresso shots, but I prefer to take mine on a chair with an ebook.

Taylor Street Baristas on Urbanspoon

Food resumes next Thurs:)