Sunday, 27 October 2013

Flesh & Buns - Street gone Posh

The Taiwanese modernised the traditional steam buns into Chinese burgers by stuffing them with various types of slowcooked meats. Somewhere along the line, a Chinese restauranteur in NYC put a Japanese spin (and name) on these gua bao buns and now these Hirata buns have taken the town by storm.

I wanted to try Flesh & Buns few months ago; the buns have generated some noise, but not as much as their S'More dessert. But for obscure reasons, venturing all the way to Covent Garden for some steamed buns takes much more motivation than anticipated. So we kept deferring it, until the opportunity presented itself.

Chicken Yakitori Shichimi pepper
Rarely can chicken skewers go wrong and these stuck to the original recipe, pieces of chicken thigh were tender and well-seasoned.

Fried Squid Japanese pepper, lime
These were hard as opposed to crispy, you know, the kind of rigidity that grazes the roof of one's mouth with an offensive mouthfeel. And there was a lot more batter than squid - When you're charging £8 a pop, at least let me taste the freaking squid! It was just bits and bobs of over-seasoned frozen rubber from a deep fryer.

Oysters jalapeno dressing
The oysters may look like they are swimming in their own sea sick, but trust, these were the best of the evening. There was nothing jalapeno about the dressing, instead it was refreshing with a healthy dose of coriander, which complimented the minerality of the slightly creamy sac from the oyster and its gently crunchy edge. 

Pig Bones sweet and spicy miso
It's ribs. Um... this wasn't particularly memorable but I do recall the ribs being tender and flavoursome. Not to the point that the meat fell off the bone, just that I managed fine with chopsticks. 

Softshell Crab jalapeno mayo
The batter for the softshell crab was better than the squid, a bit greasy, but better. It did feel like I was just eating batter though... again at £9, it's not unreasonable to have higher expectations.

Crispy Duck Leg sour plum soy, beetroot pickle

They ran out of piglet belly! Sigh... disappointment does not even begin to describe how I felt... instincts said duck would be the next best thing.

First of all, the buns. The buns were generally good; arrived steaming hot, feathery fluffily soft and pillowy. Great when they were fresh and hot. But as the buns cool, they became more moist and denser with a slightly plasticky exterior. I only noticed because we were served all 3 servings of buns with the duck. The other two mains followed about 10mins later.

The duck, well the photo says it all really, unappetising. Sauce was weak too, a more viscous sauce would have held better in the bun. Although a bowl of leaves and some pickles were served to add some crunch, the whole thing was still pretty flat. Maybe I was after some crushed nuts and chopped spring onion to add more dimension...

Flat Iron Steak bbq sauce, red onion pickles
Grilled to a medium rare, as requested - It was a great piece of beef on its own. When it went in the cold bun, though, together with the diluted bbq sauce and the overly sour pickles. the meat lost its magic. Perhaps the acidity killed the meaty flavours, or the texture of medium rare steak clashed with the cooled bun, I can't put a finger on it, but it felt as if the combination ruined a good steak.

Why don't they have slow-cooked meat on the menu? Braised ox cheek / brisket and pulled pork would be wonderful with these buns...

Salmon Teriyaki lemon, sea salt, pickled cucumber
This could be one of the more unpalatable things I have ever eaten in a restaurant. The salmon was severely overcooked to a dry, mushy texture, amplifying its tin food-like fishiness in flavour. Regardless of the amount of sugary, watery teriyaki sauce one drowns the cold piece of fish, it was still very much a cold cat-food sandwich. Downright unpleasant.

S'More marshmallows, biscuits, green tea chocolate

One of the most talked about dessert in town. The massive clay pot of fire created great theatricals. As instructed, I slowly roasted my slab of marshmallows over the fire for a few minutes, then sandwiched it between the two biscuit thins with the sheet of green tea chocolate melting away in the middle. 

The gooey centre, velvety chocolate and brittle biscuits work beautifully together. It was, however, insanely sweet, even by my standard.  Good fun nevertheless.

Kinako Donut black sugar custard
The donut didn't have the fun factor, but I preferred it to the S'More. The plump ball was airy with a crispy shell, oozing aromatic custard filling with vanilla seeds. Simply nice.

Quite a few things didn't click with me at Flesh & Buns. The most obvious is that the prices are leaning on the extortionate side. Yum Buns on Old Street offers 2 buns for £6.50, with 50% bigger buns. fresh off the steamer, stuffed with various fillings; F&B is charging 3 times the price, not to mention the £2.50 extra buns, plus service. Yes I know this is a restaurant and blah blah blah, but hey, hirata buns are street food. Period. There is nothing gourmet or premium in the ingredients either.

More importantly, the quality of food is sub-par. When the highlight of the evening was the one item that does not require cooking, it says a lot about the kitchen. I won't repeat what I have already written above, but in summary, a lazy, thoughtless menu executed by a sloppy kitchen with average quality ingredients, made only presentable with a lot of gimmicks.

On a positive note, the lycee and pomegranate martini was lovely.

41 Earlham Street
Tel: 0207 632 9500

Flesh and Buns on Urbanspoon
You may also like: Bone DaddiesKirazuKopapa

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Kirazu - Japanese Tapas... eh?

I think it’s fair to say Kirazu opened its doors almost secretively. Despite taking a spot in Soho next to Spuntino, there was no grand opening or fussy PR for the inconspicuous restaurant. I had walked past it without so much of a second glance, and wouldn’t have looked into it had LucyL not made a special mention.

To say Kirazu is small may be an understatement; it’s miniscule, made even more cramped by the table arrangements: two long communal tables. So one gets the choice of either interrupting other diners to squeeze oneself through by flattening oneself against the wall, on which hangs diners’ coats and jackets; alternatively one sits on the aisle side and tolerate the ever-so-apologetic staff that pokes / elbows / prods one’s back throughout dinner. Tough call really. Once seated one becomes even more aware of the discomfort, I couldn’t pinpoint if it was the splinter-laden table with a wonky surface, or the inconvenient bench hidden under the table to ensure there is no leg room. Apart from that, the décor and ambiance is very warm and cosy, countryside shabby chic style.

Japanese tapas is only “tapas” in the sense that all dishes are very small and that diners are encouraged order multiple dishes to share. For this reason the menu is surprisingly diverse for such a compact operation. We went for a good mix of everything.

Sashimi - Yellowtail, Scallop, Shime saba & Salmon

We started off with some sashimi specials written on the blackboard, (which the lady-owner convenient sat in front of throughout the dining service).  4 slices of yellowtail and salmon each, both were top-quality fish serve at optimal temperature, just cool enough to bring out its freshness but not straight-out-of-fridge to kill the delicate flavours. Mama Chan never rated yellowtail, but these were so beautifully rich and creamy with that melt-in-mouth texture that even she asked for seconds. The salmon was equally impressive, pumped with fishy fattiness.

Mackerel sashimi were gently blow-torched on the top for a touch of charred smokiness that balanced the acidity from the pickle juice. Strong and fishy, but not without finesse. The scallop was diced into 4 cubes, as soft and as sweet as expected, just not as noteworthy as the others.

Grilled Spicy roe
This was… interesting. The actual roe had very little taste but the hundreds-and-thousands had a great mouthfeel that quickly disintegrated into their individual grains. The grilling on charcoal added some bitterness to the spicy seasoning, and while I can’t say it was delicious, the small lumps of roe were very moreish.

These octopus balls were exactly how everyone else has described; dancing bonito flakes, generous Japanese mayo and tangy teriyaki sauce, all on top of the tongue-burning balls. The doughy filling was perfectly gooey and smooth with a small cube of octopus, perhaps better than half-hearted attempts at random food stalls around town, but honestly, the combination of these are pretty fool-proof. While these were good, I can’t say they were miles better than what we normally get here.

Grilled Pork Belly in miso
The 4.5 slices of pork was quite tender with crunchy rinds of lard, subtly flavoured with sweet miso. Again good, but I have had more tender grilled pork.

Duck Breast
The thinly sliced meat was cooked to beautiful medium pinkness with a modest line of duck fat, served with a diluted ponzu sauce that carried a mild citrusy tang. I thought it was a carefully balanced and executed little dish, but oddly enough Mama Chan thought it was quite ordinary.

Beef Tataki
The strips of beef were cooked to medium with a deep pink hue in the centre, served in a soy-based sauce with a strong chilli kick. In my humble opinion, this could have and would have been a very palatable little dish had it been warm. The deliberate coldness had subdued the flavours from the meat and highlighted the grainy textures.

Classic Ramen in Salt based soup (Shio)
I haven’t had that many salt-based broth ramen, because given the choice I had always gone for miso or soy or pork bones. This was a nice change of scenery from the various thick milky tonkotsu all over town; the soup was clear and packed with all the essence from a savoury chicken stock. Ramen here uses the eggy curly noodles, like the ones in Ittenbari. The noodles were perfectly al-dented, giving them the chew and bounce they deserve; I only wish it carried more kansui (alkali mineral water). The topping was equally impressive with a generous slab of chashu, wonderfully tender with a thick rind of lard.

I must admit it did get a tad too salty as I hit the half-way mark, not intolerable that I was gulping water, but I wasn’t yearning to slurp all the broth like I usually would.

Despite my rant about its setting, I liked Kirazu. The food, especially the sashimi plates, shows off chef’s immaculate skills and dedication to delivering perfection. The dishes, while simple, were sophisticated with great attention to the details that matter. Chef’s careful thoughts and loving preparation all evidently transpire into these little dishes.

Kirazu is doing something very different to the trend, it’s almost at the stage of proving a concept. I admire what Chef Yuya has set out to achieve, but believe there is still some mileage - more in terms of its operations than fine-tuning his recipes. Nonetheless I plan to return as a regular diner, perhaps try to hog one of the window bar seats.

47 Rupert Street
Tel: 0207 494 2248 – they DO take reservations

Kirazu on Urbanspoon

You may also like: Tonkotsu, Shoryu, YashinThe Shiori

Monday, 14 October 2013

Dehesa - Missing the Passion. Still.

Out of the Spanish restaurant groups in London, top of my list firmly sits Cambio de Tercio in Chelsea, followed by Barrafina and Jose Pizarro. The Salt Yard group didn't quite do it for me; my experience at Salt Yard was mediocre but sorely overpriced, and Opera Tavern was okay if not predictable.

Mister and I were looking for a place for nibbles before show, and Dehesa popped up. I remember London Eater writing about their cod cheeks a couple of years back - maybe I should give it a go.

Quail Eggs
These arrived cold and hard boiled. Definitely not my scene. The whites were still firmly stuck to the shells, and made it very difficult to get into the egg. Had it came roasted, or grilled yakitori-style on a bed of sea salt, it would have been much more appealing.

Cornish crab and prawn croquetas with crustacean aioli
Needless the say, the cod cheeks were no longer on menu, but there were plenty of fish tapas to choose from.

The texture of these croquetas was different to what I expected. I was expecting potato croquettes with shreds of crab and cubes of prawns. But these were made up of minced crab and prawns, almost to a thick pate consistency that really stuck to the roof of mouth. Flavours were quite mild though, it mainly came from the shell fish aioli. But overall quite good.

Octopus a la plancha with chickpeas, piquillo peppers, spinach and gremolata
This was the best dish of the evening. The thick slices of octopus were soft, tender and well-seasoned. The accompaniments worked well to support by adding some substance without overpowering the dish.

Iberico pork loin carpaccio with pioppini mushroom, radicchio salad and apricot dressing
I have had medium rare Iberico pork before, but not as rare of these carpaccio; it most resembled seared tuna. The dish was refreshing with the fruity, acidic dressing, not dissimilar to yuzu. The pork somewhat loses its distinctive nuttiness and aroma when rare, I miss that subtle sweetness. 

Grilled beef bavette with candy beetroot, asparagus, baby carrots and salbizxada salsa
A bit slack with the seasoning on the beef, and the sweetness from beetroot, turnip and carrots took all the attention. That said the beef was nicely cooked with a deep-red ruby centre enveloped by a seared rim. It just needed to be brought together with the rest of the ingredients.

Dehesa didn't do much to change my ranking of tapas preference. The quality was on par with Opera Tavern, nothing extraordinary or surprising though. Most dishes we ordered sounded much better on paper, but the delivery was a bit of a let down. I don't think I'll go back, the Wright Bros next door feels like a safer option.

25 Ganton Street
Tel: 0207 494 417

Dehesa on Urbanspoon
You may also like: Opera Tavern, Barrafina, Jose