Monday, 21 April 2014

Andina - Buzzing the Peruvian Vibe

I remember liking Ceviche in Soho a couple of years back, but it was so new to me back then I was still a bit doubtful. So I was quite excited to check out the new sister restaurant, see if I'd like it more this time. Instead of keeping trying to book a table for the evening, I decided to drag Mister along on a late Saturday afternoon for some brunch. 

We were seated at the downstairs bar; good because the music upstairs were quite loud. Our bar tender introduced us to the menu while we sipped on our freshly squeeze smoothies, Supay and Chambi. I was spoilt for choices, wanted to a bit of everything... but narrowed down to one item per section. 

Ceviche Andina: seabass ceviche, goldenberry, avocado, sweet potato
I remember trying this South American raw fish dish for the first time at Ceviche in Soho and fell in love with it instantly. It was the refreshing citrus notes in the tiger's milk, the bouncy textures of fish and the crunchy vegetables with subtle sweet juices. All the ceviche dishes looked interesting, but Mister said it was always the safest to go with their signature. 

My god the marinade here was strong; I mean it was a super acidic blow and my eyes began to water a little. I wouldn't say it was unpleasant, just definitely too tangy for my taste buds. Had the the acidity been more reined in and controlled, I would imagine the sweet potato cubes to be a beautiful balance to the dish. I recall the tiger's milk at Soho to be much more mellow. The textures, though, were fantastic; the thick slices of sea bass were fresh and full of bounce, avocado was rich and creamy; sweet potato was soft and tender; all topped off with a sprinkle of fragrant toasted nuts. 

Quinoa Croquestas with rocoto chilli jam
These croquestas were delicious. Again, full marks for textures; the grains of quinoa were chewy, but they were infused with a dense, smooth filling; together with the crispy breadcrumb shell and a generous smear of the sweet chilli jam, these little balls were delightful. 

Sea Trout Tartare Causa avocado, limo chilli, cold potato, Uchucuta herb sauce
I really enjoyed the causa. The roughly chopped trout was well-seasoned and fatty, so it had the melty mouthfeel and subtle sweetness of fish oils, with the small cubes of avocado adding to the lusciousness. It complimented the smooth potato mash well. 

Pig Butty Confit pork belly, soft bun, sweet potato ketchup, amarillo chilli
Our pig butty and choclo corn cake must have got lost in the system; they didn't make it to our table until we prompted. 

I wasn't expecting such a big bun! The brioche buns were soft and buttery, with cubes of deep-fried pork belly and a smear of sweet potato puree on the inside. Fundamentally it was a good butty, but it was missing something - I think it's missing some juice. Ideally had the cubes of belly been bursting with pork juice and fat, it would have helped to moist things up, but the meat was surprisingly lean, still tender, just lean, and so the breadcrumb shell on a thin layer of puree was somewhat prickly. 

I don't know what it needs, maybe a generous squirt of that delicious chilli jam, or a slab of belly instead of cubes, or a wedge of apple to lift things up? Whatever, I just felt it could have been even better. 

Choclo Corn Cake Giant corn and fresco cheese savoury cake, poached egg, Huancaina sauce, avocado, salsa criolla
If I had to choose my favourite item of the meal, it would be the corn cake. The springy cake was gently sweet with small bits of broken sweetcorn for crunch, the blobs of cheese gave it extra chew. It soaked up the mildly spicy cheese sauce and custard-like yolk - it was a gorgeous combination. As an avid meat lover, all I would ask is perhaps a sausage, or chorizo or maybe bacon? 

We finished off with a Bloody Andina, and the bar tender warned is that it was going to be spicier than usual because of the chillie had been left in the pisco for a tad too long. Yea he wasn't lying, it really had a good kick to it as Mister likes to describe spicy, but still a good drink. 

I really enjoyed Andina. I think I had reservations about Peruvian cuisine after Ceviche in Soho, and I definitely didn't like LIMA, but now that I am more used to the dishes and the style, I think Andina hits a few good spots for me - with the exception of their ceviche. It's a great brunch option to keep things light and healthy, it has plenty of variation to mix things up and to share, and the bouncy vibe was just an added bonus. That said I'm not sure if Mister enjoyed it as much as I did, perhaps it's quite a girly cuisine? I would definitely return, and would still order a ceviche dish just to make sure it wasn't a one-off slip.  

1 Redchurch Street
E2 7DJ
Tel: 0207 920 6499
Andina Peruvian Restaurant on Urbanspoon
You may also like: NOPILIMAKopapa

Friday, 11 April 2014

A Taste of Hakkasan

Hakkasan offers Dim Sum Sunday special menu for £48 per head, which includes 6 courses, a cocktail and tea. It's a fair bit pricier than Taste of Yauatcha, but it's still great value compared to its a la carte. I suppose a Michelin star dim sum restaurant is good enough for an afternoon catch up with Olivia. 

We started with our cocktails. My Matcha Vera was bittersweet and Olivia's Ginseng Daiquiri was very fruity with only the faintest trace of ginseng. 

Crispy Duck Salad
The crispy duck salad actually arrived in a neat little pile, but our server didn't give me a chance to snap a photo before he went ahead to toss things up. I suppose all fixed menus are similar, so there was little difference between this version of crispy duck salad and HKK's; generous pieces of tender duck with fragrant and crispy skin in a light, citrusy dressing. HKK's version, however, had cubes of dragon-fruit and melon, which just gave the salad a sweeter touch and that winning edge compared to Hakkasan's slightly meagre portion of pomelo. 

Shimeji dumpling, Har gau, Scallop Shumai, Chinese chive dumpling with prawn and crabmeat
The steamed dim sums were generally good. I thought the shells were a bit too sticky for my liking, perhaps a tad over-steamed, which wouldn't surprise me given it was absolutely packed on Mothers' Day. I usually prefer the regular pork shumai to the posh scallops, but these were probably my favourite of the platter; the thick disc of scallop was very well seasoned, plump and succulent. 

Crispy seafood roll, Baked venison puff, Crispy smoked duck and pumpkin puff, Fried golden lobster roll
The pumpkin puff was interestingly confusing. I was expecting a sweet puff with pumpkin mash but it was much more savoury than I thought. The viscous broth of duck and veg just started overflowing from the crispy shell as I dug my teeth into it. The baked venison puff fluffy and light, that said I still prefer the conventional roast pork puff. It's the sweet barbeque with the odd lump of melty lard that gets me, I reckon venison is too lean, and when mixed with such a strong sauce, it loses the gamey character of the meat. While the seafood roll was disappointingly bland, the golden lobster roll was delightful with the gooey cheese. 

Three style mushroom cheung fun
We opted for the mushroom cheung fun as opposed to the pork ribs. The cheung fun itself was very well made, the delicate balance of rice flour was handled expertly to give its light, slithery texture. Despite stuffing it with juicy, springy mushrooms, it was just lacking the 'omph' from meats; you know, the juice, the grease and the roundness. On a separate note, the soy sauce was better than most restaurants in London. 

Stir fry black pepper rib eye beef with merlot
We went for the stir-fry black pepper rib-eye with Merlot as our main, and it came with pak choi and spring onion & egg fried rice. Yea, the beef was alright, nothing spectacular - not the most tender pieces of rib-eye, but then again I have been spoilt with a lot of wagyu recently:) The rice was great, each grain was stained with egg , full of bounce and chew, not dissimilar to glutinous rice, just more moist. 

Lemon Pot with lemon curd, meringue, crumble
I'm not a lemon dessert person; Olivia enjoyed the airy mousse with broken bits of meringue. 

Coffee and mascarpone mousse hazelnut and bitter chocolate
My chocolate delice was rich and indulgent. 

I always set the bar a bit higher with dim sum / Chinese restaurants, especially when they bling things up with 'fine-dining'. While Hakkasan ticks all the boxes on the Michelin checklist with the slick decor, a sexy cocktail menu and confusing toilets, I don't think it ranks amongst the finest dim sum parlours. It quite simply lacked finesse. Yes, pairing cheese with lobster in the deep-fried roll is different to the conventional items and tasted great, but there was no complexity or sophistication in the recipe. Put that next to the ginger and shumai shooter that we had at RedFarm in New York, a bit of cheese in dim sum is really quite mediocre. I believe we would describe this as 'rough' in Chinese, not in terms of texture, but more around the lack of attention to detail, a bit 'heartless'. 

Our Sunday dim sum session went on for a good 5 hours, only because of awesome company and juicy gossips though. 
8 Hanway Place 
W1T 1HD 
Tel: 0207 927 7000 

Hakkasan on Urbanspoon
You may also like: Yauatcha, Princess of Mayfair, HKK