Saturday, 28 June 2014

Typing Room Writes Well

Typing Room has replaced Viajante in the Town Hall hotel. Viajante used to be one of my favourites, and I spent countless weekends in his little Corner Room upstairs, so I was a bit sad to see them go. That said I was psyched about Typing Room - Jason Atherton had taken over with Lee Westcott heading the kitchen. 

We kicked off the evening with a couple of cocktails at Peg & Patriot just opposite the dining room. The Scottish Porn Star was deliciously fruity and refreshing, served with a shot of Irn Bru on the side; Barley Legal was creamier and exotically sweet with a pineapple rum base. The decor in both the bar and dining room remains more or less the same as Viajante, I think even the furniture was the same. At 8:30 we were seated in the front next to the open kitchen so we could see the team in action. There was a 6-course tasting menu and a la carte - we opted for a la carte and a couple of snacks.

Rosemary brioche with chicken skin butter and black olive roll with puffed barley butter
The bread platter was exciting. The chicken skin butter reminded me of Viajante's whipped butter with sprinkles of iberico ham & chicken skin; this version was equally light and airy, but  more subdued with flavours. The mini brioche loaf was gorgeous, fluffy and buttery, laden with aromatic rosemary and perfectly seasoned with sea salt. I'm going to try to make this at home!

Cumin lavoche, crab, sweet corn & curried egg
I wanted to try the fish skin snack, but Shan doesn't eat fish skin (and he considers himself half Asian!), so we settled for our server's recommendation. The crispy, spiced flatbread was loaded with shreds of dressed crab mixed with broken eggs and sweet corn - quite a predictable mixture of flavours, the sweet, juicy crab was good, just not mind-blowing. 

Chicken wing 'drumstick', wild garlic, potato & lemon
In a nutshell, this was a posh mini chicken kiev. BUT a damn good one. The wings were de-boned and stuffed with fluffy garlic butter, which pretty much exploded when we bit into crusty shell encasing the soft, tender meat. The potato foam served on the side with hints of lemon added a refreshing lift to the strong garlic filling. It's a very comforting snack that really hits the spot.

Raw Beef, smoked beetroot, turnip, horseradish & sorrel
This was almost like a cross between a tartare and carpaccio. It was dressed like a carpaccio with thinly sliced pickled turnip and beetroot, but the beef was finely minced and spread as a layer on the plate. So the textures were smoother and creamier than the typical carpaccio but paired with the array of pickles. I personally prefer the flavours of a classic tartare, but this was nonetheless quite interesting.

Veal sweetbread, raw pea, white asparagus & buttermilk
I have made it a habit to order sweetbread when I see it on the menu; I love the bouncy and wobbly texture, its luscious richness and fatty fragrance. This ticked all the boxes. The raw pea wasn't really raw, but they were ultra crunchy, together with the strips of asparagus, they were good contrast to the sweetbread, keeping the dish light. I enjoyed it, only wish there was more.

Lamb, smoked aubergine, wild garlic, yoghurt & onion
There were 2 different cuts of lamb, loin and belly (I think - only based on the layers of the lean meat and fat). The loin was cooked to a perfect medium, the pink meat was glistening with its meat juice and was meltingly tender. Despite being an avid lover of fatty meats, I wasn't a fan of the belly. Perhaps it was too thinly sliced and so slightly overcooked to my liking; the small tile of meat was dry and lacked lamb flavours, quite rough on the mouthfeel too. 

For me, the flavours from the aubergine made up for the imperfections of the belly. The sauce had a pronounced sweetness that complimented the subtle smokiness from the veg. That did it for me.

Pigeon smoked in pine, salt baked celeriac, lovage & hazelnut
Contrary to the lamb dish, the pigeon was cooked beautifully to a perfect medium; the bird was delicately smoked, succulent, gently gamey and tender. While the soft celeriac and nuttiness worked well with the pigeon, it just wasn't as exciting as the lamb & aubergine combination; perhaps a tad too salty for me too. It was still a sophisticated dish, just marginally tipped off balance.

Pre-dessert: Parsley sorbet with lime & ginger granita
A refreshing cleanser on the palate, especially with the ginger essence.

Chocolate, amaretto & almond
Rich and indulgent

Jasmine brulee, apple
Oh the jasmine brulee was stunning, super smooth and custardy held in a sugar glaze tube; tea fragrance was very subtle. We were completely baffled by the cubes of pickled apple, however. They were eye-wateringly sour - Shan did well to keep a straight face. We mixed them up with the jelly, marshmallow ice, ice cream... tried everything but nothing worked with those sour bombs. Apart from that, gorgeous dessert. 

I enjoyed my evening at Typing Room, it was surprisingly similar to Viajante; some daring pairing of ingredients, great attention to detail and a few bold moves. Dishes were complex but no confused, and execution demanded precision. Alright maybe not everything hits the spot, but I was happy they made the effort. Service was lovely, the waiting staff knew their menu well and came up with good recommendations, very smiley and friendly; everything was swift and smooth. We were still chatting away as the time crept near midnight, but the staff just left us to it. Our server was incredibly sweet and even offered us a little taster of the strawberry and pistachio dessert that we pondered over. That said she did forget our wine completely, but we'll let it slide. 

Side note: we were introduced to the £11,000 chair that casually sits outside the restaurant at the hotel entrance, made with human hair. I sat on it; it felt expensive. Apparently plenty of special designer pieces were dotted around the hotel, because the owner has an obsession with chairs. Yea, that summarises it.

Typing Room
Town Hall Hotel
Patriot Square
E2 9NF
Tel: 0207 871 0461

Typing Room on Urbanspoon
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Monday, 23 June 2014

Tonkotsu East - Ramen Invasion to the Pho Mile

Thinking back to my first visit to Tonkotsu in Soho, I absolutely loved it. Back then ramen bars were almost non-existent in London, and my cravings for an authentic bowl of Japanese noodles were killing me. So I loved it. Then ramen bars started popping up like minons on bananas, Shoryu (now a chain giant with 4 branches), Bone Daddies (branched out to hirata Flesh & Buns), Ittenbari and more that are opening in the next couple of months; a few from Japan and one from Dubai (?!). What is going on?

I then forgot about Tonkotsu because my second visit was pretty average, the broth wasn't hot enough, the soup was too thick and the pork was too fatty. On the other hand Shoryu kind of won me over. That's why I hadn't rushed to Tonkotsu East, especially when friends didn't make a big deal out of it. 

Then one evening, when I couldn't tell my muscle aches from hunger pains, and that my favourite girl was suffering from hormonal issues, we decided to seek comfort in a heart bowl of ramen in Haggerston.

Japanese curry chicken wings 
We were given 2 small buckets because they couldn't fit in one. The wings were colossal; even without the thick, curry pasted-infused batter, the wings were quite plump and meaty. I had to peel off some of the batter as thicker bits soaked up mouthfuls of grease; my mental image of my arteries clogging up were making me shudder. Unfortunately the curry flavours didn't quite infiltrate through to the meat on the wings, but the succulent and tender meat was still very enjoyable. 

Tonkotsu Rich, sea salt-based pork stock and thin noodles topped with slices of melt-in-mouth pork belly, half a seasoned soft-boiled egg, menma, bean sprouts and spring onions 
I haven't had any ramen since my trip to Osaka in February. Actually I haven't been to a Japanese restaurant in  London since Osaka. Wow. 

The soup was as creamy as I remembered, and not as overly groggy as the one from Bone Daddies; it carries the richness from the long hours stewing of pork bones too. That said it was still a long way from the ones we had in Japan; while it was flavoursome, it was lacking the depth and roundness of the ones from Japan, not to mention it could be much much hotter. Good bounce from the noodles, stunning onsen egg and the fat : meat ratio on the char-siu was pretty spot on. It was a good ramen, but not amazing. 

Tsukemen Thick, elastic cold noodles are served with a bowl of hot intense broth. 
These noodles were different to ones in my Tonkotsu; thicker and flatter, more elastic perhaps because it was served cold. It came with a hot broth, which had a similar consistency to my pork bone soup, but with the addition of red miso. The flavours were more intense and savoury, if not a tad too salty. That said I prefer this broth, I think there's more structure to it. On the other hand, I'm not a fan of the dipping exercise; the soup doesn't cling onto the noodles well enough to take on the flavours, and half-cold-half hot-mouth feel doesn't sit well with me - everything just becomes lukewarm. Just not my thing. 

Mary Ann finished off with a vanilla creme brulee, which was very sweet and could do with more sugar brittle. 

Despite a slightly different menu to Tonkotsu Soho, I thought the two ramen bars are more or less same. If I had to choose, I'd say I prefer East because of the more laid-back vibe, the spacious arch and hence much less chaotic than the communal long tables in Soho and rushed service. But the standard of ramen is similar. While it didn't win me over as the best ramen in London, and there is nothing like the ones in Japan yet, I wouldn't mind popping back here for a casual noodle fix.

Arch 334 
1a Dunston Street 
E8 4EB 
Tel: 0207 254 2478 (no booking) 

Tonkotsu East on Urbanspoon
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Saturday, 14 June 2014

Le Coq – A Good Bird in Islington

The story goes somewhere along the lines of: the girl had an insane craving for chicken wings. The boy searched here, there and everywhere (google) for a great wings place. The boy found one. En-route to the wings shrine, the boy noticed the wings place doesn’t open on Sundays; in fact it may have closed permanently. The girl remembered a friend recommended Le Coq nearby. It may be the closest they could get to wings… (the wings search continues) 

The small rotisserie has an even smaller Sunday menu: 2 starters, 3 mains and 2 dessert options. 

Fontina & Comte Toastie with Pickled Radishes 
It’s a toastie, let’s not go overboard with description. It reminded me of Borough Market’s Kappacasein grilled cheese sandwich; must have been comte cheese. Nothing fancy, just simple and tasty. The pickles helped to lift the cheesy grease – pleasant touch. 

Bresola, Catalogna Scarolata & Preserved Lemon 
I’m not too much of an Italian cured meat fan. It was okay. 

Rotisserie Sutton Hoo Chicken with Roasted Fennel, Tomatoes & Picada 
I had the upper thigh and Mister kindly took care of the portion of chicken breast for me. It was a very good piece of chicken; the skin was well-seasoned, the meat succulent and tasted of chicken. I know it’s an odd thing to say, but as I have mentioned before, things don’t always taste like how they should nowadays. Most of the time, the meat doesn’t taste of anything; it’s only the excessively seasoning and sauces that artificially forces flavours on. Anyway, this was a good bird. 

The accompaniments were… not what it said on the menu. I can only assume they had run out of fennel and tomatoes and decided to put swede with chicken too. It wasn’t an issue, but it would have been nice if they had given me the heads up. The swede was thinly sliced and cooked with double cream, not unlike dauphinoise. It was rich and creamy at first, but quickly became too heavy on the stomach. 

The chicken gravy on the side was delicious and light, great to juice up the chicken breast. 

Rotisserie Pork Loin with Swede Jansson’s Temptation 
The pork was much less enjoyable. I don’t usually go for pork when eating out, unless it’s an Atherton restaurant and even his kitchen gets it on the drier side sometimes. It wasn’t disastrous, but it had that grainy texture as the meat juice had leaked out of the loin and took a lot of dousing in the gravy, which was where most of the flavours came from. 

Definitely stick to the chicken. 

Rotisserie Potatoes 
The aioli was thick and luscious, perfect with these crispy-edged, fluffy roasted potatoes. 

Hazelnut Ice Cream 

It would have been very easy to dislike Le Coq, given how I was so geared up for a wings challenge, a roast chicken was hardly going to do the job. That said I quite enjoyed it. No it didn’t quite curb my craving for fat, plump chicken wings, ideally in volumes, but I wasn’t too dissatisfied. The chicken itself was a good quality bird, the gravy was a concentration of all the greatness from the roasting, the pork wasn’t worth mentioning, but the swede temptation was a rich and comforting compote (in moderation). It’s not the kind of place I would make a special trip to, but if I was in the neighbourhood, I’d definitely pop in for some honest roast chicken. 

292-294 St Paul’s Road 
N1 2LH 
Tel: 0207 359 5055

Le Coq on Urbanspoon
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Saturday, 7 June 2014

Barnyard - Meat Worth Dying for

I had mixed feelings for Dabbous; I remember loving the creativity and boldness of the dishes, but then not all of them bowled me over. I remember some dishes were brilliant, but not sure if it was worth the 8-month queue. Anyhow I was excited about Barnyard, and the no booking system makes it much more accessible. 

The name of the restaurant kind of gives the decor away, country-shack with wooden fences and touches of shabby-chic cosiness. It was a short 20min wait at the bar when we arrived at 7 on a Monday evening, before we were seated at the mezzanine.  Despite mixed reviews, I found the entire menu quite enticing; didn't help that Mister and I were drawn to different items. As always, I had it my way:) 

Lard on Toast 
I have only heard positive things about smothering pigs fat on toast. The crispy toast had a shimmering layer of animal grease, plus a sprinkle of sea salt to enhance flavours. I was hoping for a rich, meaty fragrance but it never came. The flavours were surprisingly subtle, just a very subdued hint of nuttiness. I think I was underwhelmed, I was expecting this heart attack inflicting fat to be well worth the risk, but it was nowhere as flavoursome as chicken fat. 

Lard - I'm not sure how I feel about it; It's known to be the bad and evil... but... is it really? Or just a marketing myth? I have stopped eating margarine since I learnt it's practically polystyrene; I use butter, simply it's tastier and healthier. But lard is different, it makes people shudder and wince at the thought of smearing it on our bread. I dug a little deeper, compared its mono-fats and nutrition value to hydrogenated rubbish, turns out lard is better than butter in terms of good cholesterol and vitamins. I won't bore you with the science and figures, but in short, the supermarket lards are untouchable, they are the same processed rubbish as margarine; however real lard from healthy pigs are good. That said I would stick to quality butter on a day-to-day diet. 

Roast Suckling Pig with Celeriac & Caraway 
The skin on this small slab of pork was roasted to incredible crispiness; it snapped into two clean pieces as I dug my knife into it to reveal the succulent lean muscles, glistening in its meat juice. The excess layer of fat had melted away, just a small strip of gelatinous structure to enhance the mouthfeel of this baby pig. Seasoning was controlled and minimal as the meat carried enough flavours itself, it was absolutely delicious. 

This suckling pig died a worthy death. Of course this is what I am referring to in the title. 

Barbecued Grain-fed Short-rib, Homemade Dill Pickle, Mustard & Black Treacle 
I loved the short rib from Dabbous, Barnyard's version was more or less the same. The slow-cooked rib had interweaved layers of melty tendons and fat, which simply dissolved into a mouthful of bovine delight. Plenty of meaty flavours supported by an undertone of smokiness and the gentle sweetness from the sauce - I only wish there was more of it. 

Runny Eggs with Mushroom, Garlic & Parsley 
I was tossing up between this and the chicken wings in paprika as I wanted to leave space for dessert. In hindsight we could have easily devoured both. The chopped mushroom was tossed with broken semi-soft boiled egg (it's even less cooked than a soft-boiled egg), topped with a generous amount of parsley and two bits of crispy bread. A combination that could never go wrong as the juicy mushroom mingled with custardy yolk, so satisfying and comforting, yet lacked surprises. In fact I shall try making it for breakfast this weekend. 

Warm Cornbread 
The signature paperbag with the date stamp holds 4 small cubes of corn bread. It was moist and soft, more cake-like in terms of texture, and moreishly sweet from the corn niblets. 

Popcorn Icecream with Smoked Fudge Sauce 
I remember the smoked fudge sauce with the waffle at Dabbous, I think they have toned the smokiness down a notch here. Still interesting and worked well with the popcorn. 

I really enjoyed Barnyard. The food was solid; straight forward, comforting dishes that were perfectly executed, simply satisfying. Service was friendly, but could do better; we were brought food and beers that we didn't order, and getting their attention wasn't easy - it's no deal breaker though. As we were settling the bill, we saw the ruby-pink roast beef on toast and glazed sausage roll arriving next door. Yes - I'm coming back. 

18 Charlotte Street 
W1T 2LZ 
Tel: 0207 580 3842

Barnyard on Urbanspoon

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Monday, 2 June 2014

Trishna - Culturally Confused

Trishna in Marylebone holds a Michelin-star and its sister Gymkhana has been one of the hottest restaurants in town. I have always been a bit sceptical when it comes Indian fine-dining. Like Chinese cuisine, the eating culture is where food should be plenty to go round for sharing, and so refraining them on pretty plates and single-portions simply don't feel right. But I was prepared to be pleasantly surprised. 

There is nothing Indian about the decor at Trishna; perhaps it was the beautiful sunshine on the day, but the side of the dining room we were seated in had a country-house, shabby chic feel. As we munched on mini pomppadoms and chutney, we decided to cover the majority of the lunch bite menu by mixing and sharing. 

Vada & Rasam (white lentil vada, tamarind, tomato rasam) 
White lentils were mashed and shaped into small dense balls,  deep fried in an ultra thin batter and served with a dollop of thick capsicum-based aioli. The Chinese in me was really hoping to bite into a porky, meaty dumpling, so the dense and bland lentil mash didn't do it for me. The warm bowl of spicy tomato soup was, well, like tomato soup, except with a tad of beany, pasty texture to the body of the soup. 

Not that this dish wasn't skilfully prepared, it's just not to my taste. 

Quail Pepper Fry (keralan spices, black pepper, Indian onion) 
The de-boned quail was smothered in pepper and spice, and I suspect that could be how the poor bird died. The pieces of quail were succulent with a very crispy, black pepper-coated skin. It certainly had a fiery kick to it, though it was predominantly flavours from the black pepper as opposed to an array of spices. A good starter nonetheless. 

Hariyali Bream (green chilli, coriander, tandoor smoked tomato kachumber) 
I know it doens't look great, but the tiny fillet of bream was surprisingly soft; it broke away into silky flakes as I pressed the knife against the thin marinade. It didn't quite taste like green chilli, more like a thin herby pesto paste and it was very refreshing with the coriander fragrance. The tomato on the side was like cold salsa, in my humble opinion, it was too loud for the delicate fillet. 

Andhra Lamb Masala (curry leaf, coastal spices) 
Quite a disappointing curry. The small cubes of lamb were rather lean, so although the meat was still tender from the slow-cooking, it didn't carry any of the milky, lamb tang from the fattier cuts. The curry itself was flat, lacked roundness and spice - could have been tipped out of a jar had I not been sitting in a restaurant. This could be down to my non-exquisite palate for fine-Indian dishes, but I am much more fond dishes like Tayyab's dry meat, where it was bursting with layers of spices and aromas. 

Kerala Jheenga Curry (tiger prawns, Keralan spices, coconut) & Moplah Seafood Biryani (seabass, shellfish, coriander, mint, pink peppercorn raita) 
This could have been a great biryani; each grain was coated in flavoursome spices and it was absolutely packed with seafood; large chunks of the succulent and tender bass, bouncy squid and plenty of crunchy onions onions. Only one thing went wrong: mushy prawns. The king prawns left an awful mouthfeel as they disintegrated into a flat, bounceless mass. A bit careless. 

The prawn curry was very smooth and sweet, almost like a butternut squash puree with prawns. I really enjoyed it but it didn't taste like a curry, more like thick seafood pumpkin soup. 

Served with Bread basket, basmati rice, Hyderabadi dal and Aloo ugaigiri 
We went for mixture of everything to go with our dishes. Perhaps I am much more accustomed to cheap and cheerful, common Indian dining, I thought the naan breads were a bit too thin, too chewy and flavourless for my taste; the daal was no match for Dishoom's creamy black daal; and the spicy potatoes were lacking the punches of heat, albeit very crispy on the edges. So... meh. 

Aam Malai (alphonso mango cream, raw mango chutney, mango jelly) 
I really enjoyed this dessert; it was like mango lassi in solid form. The mango jelly on the side was quite sweet, but delicately balanced by chopped herbs. 

Shan and I checked out Trishna because we wanted to know what fine-dining Indian was about. I think we both left Trishna feeling underwhelmed. Yea it was a more comfortable dining environment and slightly better service, despite a couple of faux pas we decided to overlook, but the food just didn't live up to expectation.  I was pleasantly surprised by some finer touches to our starters, but there was no novelty or wow-factor, just same stuff on a cleaner (and smaller) plate - nowhere near as exciting as Roti Chai. So I won't be chasing a table at Gymkhana anymore, not sure if it's worth the effort. 

15-17 Blandford Street 
Marylebone Village 

Trishna on Urbanspoon
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