Monday, 29 December 2014

Mission - Not Yet Accomplished

It was a celebratory meal for Shan - the countdown to starting his new job begins. Nothing from our Eat List really shouts but I decided a good wine list should definitely be on the cards. Mission came to mind. Though I never got round to testing the sister Sagar + Wilde wine bar, there was a lot of noise about this opening a few months back.

Mission is located under one of the arches in Bethnal Green; I didn't hear the occasional train rumbling until Shan pointed it out. The dimly lit dining room had a large bar in the middle with a sleek luminous wall of wine bottles. The ambience reminded me of New York restaurants with a slick and chic vibe without trying too hard. The only thing that stood out like the Pink Panther was the palm tree in the middle (?!) Perhaps it was a reference to the Californian wines that Mission specialises. We kicked off the evening with a couple glasses of bubbly, Extra Brut Beaux Hauts 1992 (Russian River Valley), served in wine glasses - it was absolutely delicious; very fine bubbles with the faintest trace of sweetness.

Smoked Eel, Cheltenham Beetroot & Horseradish
The thin strips of smoked eel were plump with a thin layer of fish oil that gave it the succulence; the balance  between smokiness and fishiness was controlled. The eel worked well with the beetroot wedges, which was subtly sweet without the intruding earthy tones, finished with dashes of mild horseradish cream. It was a simple ensemble of interesting flavours.

Venison Pappadelle
Nothing really jumped at me from the starters, and Shan beat me to the smoked eel. Our server recommended a couple of options that didn’t appeal... I settled for this in the end. And frankly it was quite disappointing.

The large chunks of venison could have been any meat. It was tender, but also dry, coarse and tasteless. It lacked the strong gamey flavours I was hoping for, and there was very little sauce for the fibrous meats to soak up.  The sparing sauce on the plate was flimsy and could barely cling onto the wide sheets of pasta, not to mention the meek flavours. On a positive note, the pasta was well made, though I would prefer it to be more eggy.

Shan (quite rightly) pointed out that I rarely write about the wine. Well I must confess I don't feel confident enough to describe the notes. That said seeing Mission focuses on Californian wines, I'll share what we tried. I had the Pinot Noir "Sager + Wilde" by Domaine de la Cote 2012 (Sta Rita Hills) which was lighter than a typical Italian Pinot Noir; Shan opted for the Petite Syrah Freemark Abbey 2011 (Napa Valley) - he gave his nod of approval but apparently no match to the Mendoza wines from his travels.

Lamb Neck, Celeriac & Anchovy
There wasn't anything particularly exciting about either of our mains, both in terms of presentation and recipes. Shan's lamb neck was pretty much cooked through, leaving a slightly grainy texture but still tender, I prefer a smoother mouthfeel. The addition of anchovy was too subdued to bring much to the dish. There was nothing wrong, just felt somewhat heartless and disinterested. 

Duck Breast, Red Cabbage & Parsnip
Marginally better with the duck, which was also more cooked through than my usual medium, but the meat was soft and juicy with a healthy layer of fragrant duck fat under the crispy skin. While the red cabbage was unsurprising, the parsnip mash was very enjoyable and added the sweetness to the duck. Again, just not very exciting.

For our mains I randomly picked out Carignan Broc Cellars 2012 (Alexander Valley) for Shan, and I, Cabernet Sauvignon Thelema 2006 (Stellenbosch). Both quite light compared to the usual Old World wines.

Buttermilk Pudding, Cranberries & Shortbread
And this was truly awful. The cranberries were eye-wincingly sour and that kind of spilled over to the milk pudding, which carried an unpleasant bitterness. We didn't like it. The shortbread was delicious though, buttery and crumbly.

We left Mission feeling underwhelmed by the food, but appreciated the wines and had a fantastic evening. Like I said there was nothing terrible, with the exception of our dessert, I just expected something less plain and ordinary. We still had a great time - as we always do - the ambience and wines definitely helped. For a wine restaurant, I would say Antidote and Terroirs are in a much higher league. We wouldn't mind checking out Sagar + Wilde later on though.

250 Paradise Row
E2 9LE
Tel: 0207 613 0478

Mission Wine Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon
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Monday, 22 December 2014

Kanada-Ya - The New Ramen Champ

It’s going to be a short review. I wish I could say I have been so busy with the party season leading up to Xmas that I haven’t had the time to do write-ups. Sadly the truth is I have been hit with (what felt like) the ultimate flu virus potent enough to wipe out the entire the population of London. Well... at least my office if not the entire wharf. So I had lost all sense of taste, smell and appetite. Until I get a chance to catch up, this is a short note on my visit to Kanada-ya.

After a disappointing visit to Ippudo about a month ago, I have been curious about Kanada-ya. The minuscule restaurant was like a steam room on this breezy evening; it had a higher moisture saturation than the drizzling outside. The dining room had an open kitchen where noodles and pork broth were boiling away, limited ventilation and too many seats cramped around a large table in the middle and a few tables dotted on around it. It was a sit-eat-leave kind of ramen bar. 

I went for the chasiu men with the deluxe charsiu pork collar version (£12.50) plus an Hanjuku egg (£1.80). And I am pleased to report that this bowl of ramen was as good as it could get. The frothy broth was ingenious. While the creaminess of the pork soup is what we love about tonkotsu, it does get heavy on the stomach after slurping half a bowl. But what could you do? The thick consistency captures all the essence from simmering pork bones for 18+ hours. Kanada-san came up with the solution by whisking the broth to lighten up the texture without compromising the depth of flavours. The broth was overflowing with flavours, it was rounded and had more structure than all other ramen restaurants in London. 

The noodles itself was spot-on - I ordered regular firmness - full of bounce with a good chew. The charsiu pork collar was tender and delicious. The leaner meat was sliced thinly with a good ratio of gelatinous cartilage to create that melt-in-mouth texture. Finally, just look at that egg...

Will's original ramen (£10) was more or less the same with charsiu pork belly instead of collar. The belly slices were cut more thickly with a small rind of lard. Texture was more coarse than the thin collar meat, but still tender and juicy. That said I definitely prefer mine.

Will had an extra serving of noodles to slurp up the remaining soup; like how ramen restaurants do it in Japan. We also had a salmon onigiri - well, it was like any other onigiri.

Kanada-ya is solidly my favourite ramen joint in London. The only shortfall is the limited menu and confined space. If I wanted a ramen plus something else to make it a proper meal with friends, I'd stick to Shoryu. Otherwise this is now my ramen fix go-to place.

64 St Giles High Street
No reservation - queue only

Kanada-Ya on Urbanspoon
You may also like: Tonkotsu East, KirazuBone Daddies

Monday, 8 December 2014

Honey & Co - That Warm Fuzzy Feeling

Honey & Co is a tiny shop / restaurant on Warren Street. It's absolutely minuscule, yet it was bursting with life on a freezing wintry night. Shan recommended this little gem a while back, and I made a mental note to take Lee here. 

Decor here was minimal, bare walls and paper table cloth, and pretty poor acoustic too, so not your usual date restaurant. The tables were so cramped that it felt like we were sharing a table with our neighbours. But it had its own charm of cosiness and warmth to it. 

Luxury mezze - bread selection with olive oil / homemade pickles & kalamata olives / burnt aubergine bourekka / creamy hummus / roast pumpkin / falafel / pear and walnut salad with tahini

Ah I love it when there's too much food for the table - it excites me. I was relieved when Lee recognises a lot of the dishes and gave her nod of approval. I enjoyed all of them; the hummous really took me back to Israel, cous cous with with pistachio was refreshing; pear & walnut salad was deliciously balanced. Lee particularly liked the smokey aubergine and creamy cheese, which was addictively moreish.

Fish Pastilla

This filo parcel was beautifully baked to a delicate, flakey crispiness. It was packed with plenty of fish, and I mean a lot of fish. It had quite a strong fishy taste to it, and relatively less cream sauce than a typical fish pie, so the overall texture was quite dense and compact. Because the filo pastry was so light, it worked very well with the substantial filling.

This is a traditional Palestinian dish; chicken baked in onions, saffrons and a combination of spices wrapped in taboon bread. The meat retained its juices and soaked in the all the flavours from the spices when it was slowed cooked in the bread, so it was succulent and very flavoursome. I would, obviously, prefer thigh to breast meat, but I still enjoyed it.

Honey & Co won me over with its cosy charm. Most importantly Lee really liked it too and could relate it to what she had back in Israel. It may not have the most complicated recipes, but there was heart-felt genuineness in the cooking. Their breakfast menu also looks interesting...

25a Warren Street
Tel: 0207 388 6175

Monday, 1 December 2014

Brunch Less Ordinary

I’m sure I have mentioned it previously, but here goes – I love breakfasts. The next best thing from waking up to the smell of bacon is probably a good weekend brunch over gossips and giggles. For those who have had too many eggs royale or blueberry pancakes, there are alternative options to mix things up a bit.

As well as serving up great meats, Foxlow recently launched their weekend brunch menu.

Montecristo Cronut

I’m struggling for words to describe how much I loved this. I have had various versions of cronuts, mainly sweet ones in New York, Melbourne and London. The general feeling was yea-it’s-good-I-quite-like-it, more than my-god-this-is-why-everyone-went-nuts.
But this one was a different story. The brittle outer shell broke open to reveal the multi-layer of airy croissant pastry, from which hot, gooey cheese was oozing its way out with small bits of smoked ham. Ah.... enough said.

Fried Chicken & Egg, croissant waffle
The chicken version of duck & waffle. The thick piece of chicken was succulent with a thin, crispy batter, delicious with the fragrant waffle that soaked up the maple syrup and the savoury gravy – bliss.

Moroccan Eggs & Sobrasada Toast
I tried convincing Fenny to go for the All Day Breakfast burger, but she opted for something less health-threatening and refreshingly delicious.

We finished off with an Elvis Presley sandwich with candied bacon (on the house). I’m going through an odd phase of insatiable bacon craving.

Sunday Roast: Beef Rump, Yorkshire pudding and gravy, with all the trimmings of roast potatoes, roast carrots, cauliflower cheese and buttered cabbage.
Not quite brunch I know, but I got in early to check out their roast with a 50% off, otherwise priced at £18.50 per person. And it was quite special. The beef was cooked to a beautiful ruby medium, and the thick rind of fat was a pleasant surprise (for me). The thick slices were juicy, tender and flavoursome, undoubtedly one of the better roasts I’ve had. If I had to pick out imperfections, then perhaps the fluffy potatoes could do with a bit more seasoning, and the cauliflower cheese were slightly dishevelled, but a very good roast overall.

I finished off with pain perdu, maple cream and crispy bacon and YF had an apple crumble with custard. Both were alright.

I popped downstairs to Shan and Clem’s table before heading, and had a cheeky bite of chicken liver mousse, bacon jam, toast. Oh yea. Bacon jam works. Might send the boys to Eat 17 to do some testing.

On a separate note – avoid sitting near the entrance as it gets incredibly chilly. And more importantly, I haven't heard great things about their usual menu. Apparently the sharing plates aren't big enough to share and dishes were rather ordinary. I have no idea.

It must have been a Sunday afternoon when I decided the queue at the Breakfast Club was simply never going to move, we popped into this cute Austrian cafe instead in Camden Passage. This place is mostly packed anyway, I suspect mostly because of the overflow from TBC, but it does have its own cosy charm.

Spinach Dumplings with organic mountain cheese and green salad

Yea it’s the Bavarian dumplings, not the Asian version with the thin pasta envelops. Doughy and definitely made less bland with the cheese. But really no match for the Chinese dumplings.

Kipferl Special Kaiserkrainer with a selection of salads, rye bread, mustard and freshly grated horseradish
It depends how much you like your German sausage. For me, it represents Christmas – the Xmas market stalls that have a hanging barbeque with real coal and lots of sausage wieners; together with the joy of avoiding mustard on my scarf, balancing onions the dog and the numbing sensation on my front teeth after biting into the sausage fresh off the grill. Having them served on a plate is simply less exciting. That said the pickles and salads on the side make up for it, albeit cold, and it was a juicy sausage. What I love about Kipferl, is that it’s very un-London like. The closest thing to an English breakfast on the menu is bacon and eggs, and even that isn’t quite the usual version we get.

Cynthia and I came here for dinner once, and the menu was more or less the same. I genuinely don’t remember what we had, but I do remember it being a great evening.

For those who prefer something more conventional, Lantana is another safe bet besides The Breakfast Club and Caravan and who doesn’t know Lantana... the Aussie cafe serves up some good coffee too.

Corn Fritters stacked with streaky bacon, fresh spinach and slow roast tomatoes served with smashed avocado and crème fraiche with poach egg.
A pretty hearty plate. They do the best corn fritters in town I think, beats the ones at Granger & Co, with the crispy batter shell jam packed with plump, juicy corn niblets. The meaty bacon was grilled to a crunchy edge without drying out, mixed with creamy avocado mash and a custardy yolk – winner.

The cured salmon here is also worth a mention, though nowhere near as satisfying as the corn fritter.

Riding House Cafe
I wasn't head over heels when I first came here for dinner. But since their opening, I have frequented here for brunch as options are quite limited in the area. I think they have removed the steak and eggs from the weekend brunch menu, which was quite annoying because I loved it. Then I have been sticking to eggs royale. Mister beat me to getting the eggs royale today, and he even threw in spinach to perfect it. So I ventured into the unknown and got...

Egg Hussard ox heart tomato, ham, spinach, bordelaise & hollandaise
Yea I like it. It's basically an eggs benedict-florentine combo with a thick slice of tomato. The stroke of genius was the bordelaise sauce. The red wine sauce was a good balance to the rich hollardaise. Would have preferred younger leaves and cooked more thoroughly, but minor issues.

69-73 St John's Street
Tel: 0207 014 8070
Foxlow on Urbanspoon


4A Upper St. Martins Lane
Tel: 0203 764 0840
Tredwell's on Urbanspoon


20 Camden Passage
N1 8ED
Tel: 0207 704 1555
Kipferl on Urbanspoon

Lantana Cafe
13 Charlotte Place
Lantana on Urbanspoon

43-51 Great Titchfield Street
Tel: 0207 927 0840
The Riding House Cafe on Urbanspoon 

Monday, 24 November 2014

The Palomar - To Be Determined

When The Palomar opened its doors in June, I was ironically on my way to Israel hoping to check out Machneyuda – except I failed as it was booked out months in advance (its sister restaurant across the road was an excellent alternative). Since then I have been distracted with other new openings I never got round to it. Then Mister gave me free reins for Saturday dinner – why not?

Something wasn’t right that evening. To start, he was early. I should have seen the warning sign flashing except I was distracted by the pink neon lights at the entrance of the restaurant.  What is it with pink neon lights anyway - no one else thinks its looks cheap and downright dodgy? Especially in a very limited space where men were standing way too close to each other... The waiting crowd couldn’t have moved out of the way even if they tried; there was only enough space for 1.5 person behind the bar seats. No wonder chefs had to do shots with the diners at the bar to keep them sidetracked.

The dining room was no bigger. There was no way the table in the corner next to us could get any service without my chair getting shoved / kicked. Someone mentioned the restaurant felt like it was converted from a newsagent. I couldn’t agree more. Mister had questions about the menu (when does he not), and bless our waitress did well to entertain but the oyster mystery remains. I had a fruity Sloe Collins cocktail  with sweet potato crisps with pesto and aioli, which were moreish but also scarily greasy.

Kubaneh Yemeni pot baked bread served with tahini & grated tomatoes
The bread made a theatrical entrance in a tin, from which our server tipped out this steaming small round loaf. It was scrumptious, buttery fragrant and feathery soft, similar to brioche, just not as rich or sweet. The velvet tomato and tahini dips were smooth and luscious, perfect with the airy bread.

Salmon Tartare with aubergine 2 ways, yoghurt, pine nuts & parsley
Small cubes of raw salmon sitting atop a thick disk of aubergine with smears of yoghurt on one side and what tasted like olive puree on the other. The aubergine was poached to podgy softness, which complimented the bouncy sashimi well. The familiar Middle Eastern flavours were balanced, made more current with the addition of tartare infused with a chilli oil based dressing.

I went with salmon tartare instead of the chopped beef filet, only because I thought Mister might be more likely to eat raw fish than beef. It made no difference - he barely touched it.

Seared Scallops with cured lemon beurre blanc, swiss chard easy over, Jerusalem artichoke & hazelnut tuille
The artichokes were looking very similar to the scallops. The scallops were plump and meaty, a tad overcooked for my liking as it had lost that semi-cooked creaminess and succulence but most people would find it just right. The brittle hazelnut tuille was a winning touch as the nutty fragrance drew out the shellfish flavours. Together with the gentle crunch from the artichoke and creamed swiss chard, it was a good dish.

Agnolotti and Veal Sweetbread with onion cream, crispy shallots and burnt egg yolk
Since I had the sweetbread dish at Casa Malevo, I have been ordering it from trusty restaurants. I think the one at Malevo still champs the scene, closely followed by Semilla in Paris.

The agnolotti and lumps of sweetbread were arranged around an egg yolk that was gently charred on top, with swirls of onion cream and crispy deep-fried shallots scattered around. I thought the dish was leaning on the dry side, even after Mister ripped open the runny yolk. The sweetbread had lost its indulgent melty texture and carried more of springy chew, which was okay but I prefer it when it’s rich and wobbly. The agnolotti had a dense filling and I think it would have benefited from more sauce. I like the concept of the dish; it brings a good combination of textures, just wish there was some veloute to gel everything together.

Pork Belly Tajine with Ras el Hanout, dried apricots & Israeli couscous
The spoon sank into the super tender slab of pork with ease; the meat retained its juices while the rind of fat melted in mouth. The flavours were not as pungent as the tagines I had in Morocco, but more refined and controlled especially with the apricots and dried fig. Israeli couscous was like pearl barley without the chew, or large tapioca pearl; very playful mouthfeel as they burst to release the aroma from Ras el Hanout spices.

I have mixed feelings for The Palomar. There is something contradictory about it but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Perhaps it was the jovial vibe that the chefs were desperately pushing at the bar (by tossing back shots of course) didn’t fit with the strict table turnaround time. We were offered to wait for a bar seat if we wanted to order dessert. Ha. Or was it the groggy decor in the dining room, which really was more like a dark corner with a few tables.  You know they have spent good money on the place, the marble, brass rails and the works – yet among the chaos and humidity, it felt sticky and trashy, perhaps classless. Something didn’t click.

But the food, when I think about it, was actually very good. The dishes had an unmistakable Middle Eastern flair, threw in some North African touches and modern twists to keep things interesting. Flavours were balanced and most combinations worked well to bring the west and the east together. The only thing that bothered me was that none of the food was particularly hot, most of them arrived warm-ish except for the bread. I promise it wasn't because I spent forever on the photos - I'm pretty quick with the snaps. Mister didn't like it and he's still baffled about the oysters, maybe that left me baffled too? 

34 Rupert Street
W1D 6DN 
Tel: 0207 439 8777

The Palomar on Urbanspoon

You may also like: Ottolenghi, NOPIArabica Bar & Kitchen

Monday, 17 November 2014

Blackfoot - Lost its Footing

Blackfoot and I haven't had it easy. I have made multiple bookings before but they never happened, and that one Sunday when I turned up to a very limited brunch menu didn't quite hit the spot for me. So the night before my favourite girl moves her life over to Switzerland, taking her one step closer to the States, we decided to pig out here.

It's a casual restaurant with a piggy menu, not to the extent like St John, where they could make a dish out of every bit of the pig, more just the typical ribs and belly. I already tried the whipped lardo on toast last time when I came for brunch, thought it was a tad too salty, so we launched straight into the mains.

Sticky and Aromatic
Braised with lemongrass, ginger and lime leaves, deep fried and stacked up with crispy garlic, chilli and spring onions
The flavours were spot on, it giving off plenty of lemongrass and garlicky fragrance. The ribs were coated with a sweet honey glaze, then came a brief wave of mild heat from the chillies, finally leaving a trace of meatiness. The meat was slightly dry from the deep-frying, I prefer my ribs juicier and tenderer, but this was still enjoyable. It kind of reminded us of Chinese deep-fried bbq ribs with honey glaze...

Love me Tender
A rack just the way Elvis would have wanted - Southern BBQ-style. Served with pecan coleslaw
This on the other hand achieved the fall-off-the-bone texture, but the flavours were far less sophisticated and structured. Just the regular barbecue sauce smothering a rack of ribs. One of the things I hate about bbq ribs is when the sauce has cooled and looks like a plasticky slab of goo. This kind of arrived like when it came lukewarm. I've had better.

The Long Smoke
Whole belly smoked in applewood chips. Sichuan pepper, black treacle and star anise crust, cooked low and slow for six hours. Carved up and served with pecan coleslaw and pickles
We thought it was going to be a hunk of pork belly glistening its own juice. Sadly not. This piece of pork belly didn’t arrive hot, probably lukewarm at best and it looked rather unappetising; the opaque layer of lard and with smidges of grey charcoal did a great job at reminding me how it plans to invade my arteries... Looking back, it wasn’t even worth the risk. The meat was bland, no trace of fragrance from the sichuan pepper or star anise, or hints of sweetness from the treacle, or even subtle smokiness, just meat cooked to death enveloped by a bitter ring of burntness. There wasn’t even a sauce / dip to drown the hopelessness. Fail.

Clam & Pork Stew
Pork shoulder slow-cooked with leeks-a-plenty, finished with palourdes and a smooth coriander sauce, then spooned over hunks of toasted ciabatta
This dish simply didn't work. We were expecting it to come in a pot with a thickish consistency as a comfort dish. Instead it was a watery broth with a few chunks of dense pork shoulder, empty clam shells stuffed with leeks and lots of bread. I was really disappointed with the meat, the cubes of pork were very lean and they turned into dry, sinewy blocks from excessive boiling. Another flimsy dish.

We had some fries and chilli pork crackling on the side. Not bad.

We didn’t go for dessert, but I’m throwing in what I had last time on a very quiet Sunday lunch, for info.
Whipped lardo on sourdough toast
Unlike Barnyard, the lard is whipped to a translucent, thick-ish consistency - it looked like kaya toast from Singapore. The sea salt sprinkle was a tad too heavy-handed but the rosemary worked for me. Didn’t fall in love with it, but glad I tried it.

Bacon Porridge with maple syrup
Don’t know if this is on their menu anymore. I really enjoyed it, I reckon it’s the winning combination of maple syrup and bacon.  The bits of fried lardon and bacon mingled well with the syrup-drenched sweet porridge. I have porridge every morning already, wouldn’t mind mixing it up with a bit of bacon every now and then.

Hash and Egg with Onion Gravy
I think this was good. It didn’t really leave much impression in my memory though, except the onion gravy, which I liked because reminded me of a French onion soup. And boy I am a sucker for that.

I had high hopes for Blackfoot. When a restaurant dedicates itself to one thing, they usually do it well. And Shan tested this place out and said great things about it. Changes in the kitchen? Team lost the steam? None of the dishes stood out in a positive way this evening, and when a place that specialises in pig haven’t nailed ribs and belly, there isn’t much else going for them. Given there are now good options at Exmouth Market, I don’t think the piggy is getting a second chance anytime soon.

Come to think of it, I have eaten a lot of bad meals recently - bring me something good!

46 Exmouth Market
Tel: 0207 837 4384

Blackfoot Pork Restaurant on Urbanspoon
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