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
You may also like: Typing RoomPetrusBeagle

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