Monday, 19 January 2015

Smoking Goat is Smoking Hot

My first restaurant, on the second day of 2015.

Robert originally suggest Big Easy... just no. I heard great things Smoking Goat, a Thai BBQ joint on Denmark Street. Despite the queue-only system, tiny menu, cramped space, uncomfortable seats and blaring music, everyone loved the food. Sounds like something Basel doesn't have, so I convinced Cynthia, Ceci and Robert to give it a go.

Half the menu was sold out by 6pm on a Friday night. The scallops and chilli jam sea bass are gone, only 2 lamb shoulder and 1 lamb neck from the specials left. Not sure what they were planning to serve after the first round of seating. We also found out they have removed the whole chilli crab from the menu because it was out-of-season. My heart sank. We opted for all the small plates they had to offer (x2), took the last lamb neck (£45) and the duck leg. Our server thought we were bonkers and suggested we stop at the lamb neck. But no, we were determined. It’s amazing how irrational we could get without chilli crab.

Hot and Sour Clams in orange broth
This was a slight variation to the iconic Thai tom yum soup. The chilli-laden broth was spicy, tangy and fragrant, incredibly moreish with the small clams. We were all sticking our tongues out from the chilli heat, yet still slurping more soup with the sticky rice.

Fish Sauce Wings
Ah just for these wings, one would forgive the dingy space, the hard wooden bench, the conversation-drowning music, the sticky tables, and even the disappearance of chilli crab (or anything really) on the menu...

The meaty wings came in 3s. Coated in a crispy batter that was deep-fried to the perfect crunch; satisfying brittle without being too harsh on the roof of mouth, just a tiny layer of doughy softness between the crispy batter and fragrant skin.  The flavours were incredible; the plump wings were marinated first with a bit of soy and ginger before enveloping them with fish sauce drenched batter, finished with a drizzle of honey and a squeeze of tangy lime juice. Boy some epic wings they serve here - best ones in town.

Coal Roast Aubergine salad
This needs to be renamed as salt-roasted aubergine salad. The aubergine, hidden underneath the silky quail egg, already carried much smoky saltiness, it was further drenched in a full-on fish sauce dressing and topped with some brine-soaked vegetable shreds. The salt attack came in waves; one stronger than the next.

It took me right back to the day when my beloved brother swapped my salt and sugar pots around, and I ended up with 2 spoonfuls of salt in my porridge. Oh and when I mistook the pot of MSG for sugar at Sherwin’s house in Stockholm, ended up with a MSG macchiato. Imagine a couple of gulps of sea water – there, you get the idea.

So, no. None of us enjoyed it.

BBQ Lamb Neckserved with Son Tamm – green papaya salad, sticky rice and jaew dipping sauce
We were all taken aback by the colossal portion of the lamb neck; must have been the Hulk of all Lambs with a neck this size. At the sight of this slab of meat, we sheepishly sent Cynthia to cancel the duck leg... Our server gave us a knowing nod, with a smirk.

The lamb was insanely tender, didn’t even need a knife to slice through, we just sank out forks into it and effortlessly pull out succulent chucks of lamb. The hunky neck muscles were laced with fat and tendons, which melted away in mouth as the neck disintegrated into meaty softness. Like every dish here, the kitchen was bold with seasoning and meat was absolutely packed with flavours from the marinade and the thick barbeque glaze, which was deceivingly hot. It was the kind of spiciness that slowly crept on us, then lingered to build up more heat with each bite. The refreshing papaya salad and lumps of sticky rice did well to neutralise the chillies.

Smoking Goat is unique in what it does. While the more conventional Thai cuisine do have a fair share of grilled dishes, like my favourite grilled pork neck with lemongrass,  the BBQ dishes here are more western style meats in oriental aromatic spices. The result is impressive and stimulating. Apart from the aubergine salad, we enjoyed everything. And take it from me, the wings alone is worth the visit.

Smoking Goat  (Twitter)
7 Denmark Street
No reservations

Smoking Goat on Urbanspoon
You may also like: Barnyard, Smokehouse, Foxlow

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Gilbert Scott - A Charming Gentlemen

It started off with a suggestion of casual lunch at Dapur or Rex & Mariano on Christmas Eve, which all turned out to be closed. Then we both went on a frantic search for worthwhile restaurants serving lunch on the day... Shan came up with Spring, The Colony Grill, The Ivy and Sketch; I came up with York & Albany, Social Eating House and Hubbarb & Bell. Then he gave me the reins to book and I went with The Gilbert Scott. No particular reason – maybe it’s an unlikely option under normal circumstances.

Named after the Victorian architect George Gilbert Scott, the dining room was quite impressive. The high ceiling and with brass rails and plush sofas booths oozes elegance, but it’s grandeur without imposing formality; the ambience was generally relaxed and warm. After our server came to check on us 3 times, we were finally ready to order and started with a carafe of house red, which was light and mildly fruity.

Roasted Red Leg Partridge shallot and bacon jam, sherry caramel, radicchio
The partridge leg was very well cooked, soft and succulent muscles with slightly charred skin that was thinly glazed with sweetness. What stole the show was the lettuce (!); the crunchy leaves were grilled before braised in a sweet and savoury jam, so it carried strong smoky aroma that went well with the jammy sauce. It was a balanced and carefully executed dish.

Crispy Pig’s Head pickled cockles, laverbread mayonnaise, sea vegetables
The pig’s head was much less substantial. The small cube packs in shreds of soft meats laced with gelatinous tendons and cartilage, enveloped by a crispy breaded case. The pickled cockles was a nice British touch but didn’t really add much to the dish. I think all pigs head dishes are more or less the same, it’s hard to come up with anything extraordinary. This was good.

Lake District Venison red cabbage puree, apple, pastrami
I wanted meat; I had been craving for a good hunk of red meat for weeks. The venison arrived overcooked; I asked for medium rare and this has gone beyond medium. I could have sent it back, but unless it was inedible I generally prefer not to – it disrupts the pace of the meal. And honestly it wasn’t criminally overdone, the centre was still fairly pink and very soft. Not as gamey and bloody as I’d usually have it, but it was still enjoyable; the subtle addition of apple worked well with the conventional pairing of red cabbage and venison. What I loved was the pastrami shavings, its distinctive taste was bordering on overpowering the finer venison, yet in moderation it gave the ensemble an edge.   

Cornish Monkfish ‘Njuja, butterbeans, marjoram
The monkfish seemed fluorescent. It was carefully cooked to retain its succulence and softness, firm in structure but silky in texture. I think monkfish is slowly growing on me, had one at Tom’s Kitchen in the wharf the day before for lunch and really enjoyed it; sturdier than cod and slithery when cooked well. The njuja sausage contributed some kick with its glowing chilli oil, though not too overwhelming. Still don’t like beans, any beans.

Banana Bread & Butter Pudding raisin puree, rum ice cream
This is my very first bread and butter pudding; I don’t eat raisins or sultanas. Given I forced Shan to pick a dessert for sharing, I wasn’t going to protest. The squidgy pudding was interesting, not dissimilar to a flan, and thankfully only a handful of raisins. As for the rum ice cream and raisin puree, I just don’t think those are flavours I enjoy. Interestingly, Shan got the two flavours pretty jumbled up too....

The sky was almost dark by the time we asked for the bill, and the ambience in dining room gradually transformed to something more mature, elegant and romantic with the mellow lights. Although none of the dishes were dazzlingly outstanding at The Gilbert Scott, it was one of the most enjoyable lunches in my recent memory.  On one hand it felt very British – safe, pleasant and subdued; on the other there was a touch of Français, a touch of je ne sais quoi. Nothing ground-breaking, just well-rehearsed recipes executed very well.  Couldn’t have chosen a better place to spend Christmas Eve afternoon with Shan - I really liked it.

St  Pancras Renaissance Hotel
Euston Road
Tel: 0207 278 3888

The Gilbert Scott on Urbanspoon

Monday, 5 January 2015

The UnBloggables

Maybe a tad unfair to call all of these the un-bloggables. These are more or less reviews I started writing, then decided they are not worth a piece on their own. Mainly because they are quite unremarkable, but here you go if you're thinking of going.

ChottoMatte – Forgettable Encounter
This review had been work-in-progress for 5 months and I simply have no motivation to complete it. A small part of me enjoy slating dishes from time to time, to articulate their failures and hope for improvements. But everything here was so wrong - I can't be arsed 'cause it can't be fixed.

We had a dish from every section of the menu. In summary: Itsu-grade sashimi; tostaditas topped with raw fish should be banned from the city; bland and untorched seared beef sushi; black cod could have been any fish as it lacked the milky texture; Anticucher’a Barbecue pork belly was dry meat coated in thick chilly sauce; paperthin vegetables was a joke (see below) and Quinoa salad was a highlight.

Paperthin vegetables salad daikon, butternut squash, beetroot, quinoa, physalis, lime
The paper thin vegetable salad was true to its words; literally peels of root vegetables gently pickled for a refreshing, citrusy salad. At £5 a pop, they could have been more generous with the peels. Not that I counted, but it wasn’t particularly difficult to do so, there were approximately 3 paperthin peels of each vegetable and a sprinkle of quinoa. And really? Quarters of broccoli florets? WTF?

Chotto Matte
11-13 Frith Street
Tel: 0207 042 7171
Chotto Matte on Urbanspoon

United Ramen - A Mixed Bag of Failures
With ramen bars popping up like minions on bananas over the last couple of years, I kind of lost interest after Shoryu (until Kanada-Ya came along). United Ramen was supposed to be different, it has taken the traditional Japanese ramen and injected it with different cultural influences. I was mildly intrigued, but let’s be honest, it was the 50% off soft launch offer that brought us there.

Spicy Salmon & Kimchi Ramen (inspired by Korea) 48-hour spicy miso marinated salmon, kimchi cabbage, fresh spinach, beansprout, spring onions in a prawn, shitake & konbu broth with thin noodles
The presentation could not have been worse. The salmon filets were poor, no sign of miso or spice, just bland chucks of overcooked stiffness. The broth lacked depth and roundness, just regular stock with seafood-flavourings – could have tried harder with some iconic Korean sweet spicy sauce. Noodles were alright, just wasted in a weak broth. The kitchen dumping some kimchi in the bowl does not make it a pathetic excuse to call it Korean influence. There was nothing Korean about it.

Chashu Pork Miso Ramen (Traditionally Japanese) Chashu pork, soy egg, menma, bok choi, beansprouts, nori, spring onions, miso and chicken bone broth with thin noodles
This got me fuming – frankly it’s an insult to Japanese cuisine. This so-called ramen is wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to start.

Firstly, the traditional chashu involves slow-cooking a hunk of rolled pork belly in a low temperature for hours. There is a good reason to roll the pork, which is to retain its juice and moisture when the meat braises in dark soy and mirin. The melt-in-mouth pork should then be chilled before slicing and re-coating in another layer of marinade. Now this is the basic procedure. This pan-fried cut of cheap pork belly is downright laziness – one side was burnt and parched, while the underside was pale. It was gross.

Again the broth lacked depth and the savoury miso fragrance that one would get from prolonged simmering and good quality miso. The noodles weren’t eggy and springy enough; the soft boiled egg lacked flavours from its soy marinade; too much beansprouts and rubbish presentation. Surely I haven’t covered everything, but this was as bad as a ramen could get.

Agedashi Tofu
I pointed out to our server that they shouldn’t even be serving this dish, and should remove it from the menu. I think they did. The tofu was porous and firm, wrapped in a soggy batter that had soaked up the soy sauce dressing. The drenched mess was served cool – unpleasant.

Trio of “Little Moons” Mochi
The highlight of the meal was dessert because they bought them in.

United Ramen on Urbanspoon
You may also like: On the Bab, Tonkotsu East Kirazu

The Oyster Hour - Bonnie Gull, Wright Brothers Spitalfields & Mussel Men
Bonnie Gull was offering £1 oyster happy hour during the week from 4:30-6:30pm - as if I was going to miss out. To my delight the happy hour extended to the cocktails too! My Chaplin’s Crush with apricot brandy was scrumptious.

The oysters on offer were Dorset Blue Rocks; we sensibly started with 6 each and lucky we did. They were huge; round and fatty with a creamy sac of bliss. So so good – possibly the best I have had in years.

Bonnie Gull Seafood Cafe on Urbanspoon
Wright Brothers at Spitalfields was offering the same deal with their £1 oysters till 6pm on weekdays. They serve Jersey rocks, which are probably half the size of the Dorset Blues. Things are a lot less exciting here, puny oysters with meagre morsels. Still fresh and shucked-to-order, but you know there are much better ones around.

Cynthia came up with Mussel Men for our girly catch-up with Ceci. It was a scorching hot day, we sat outdoors at the back and popped open some prosecco to wash down the gossips. Prosecco Col Fondo was extremely dry – can’t say I was a fan.

The rock oysters were quite good, not particularly plump but acceptable given they were not in season. Still plenty of umami from the minerals, clean and crisp. Cynthia managed to smash a dozen by herself. 

We also had the Soft Shell Crab with carrot salad; very thin batter with a good bit of meat from the crab, paired with a mildly acidic dressing. 

Shetland Mussels: Mariniere & Garlic Butter

We went for two portions of mussels between the 3 of us. The mussels were very muscular indeed, meaty and sweet, and perfectly cooked to retain their succulence.

Mussel Men on Urbanspoon

Well & Bucket - Came Up Empty
I looked at the menu online and has been itching to come here since - oysters plus sliders can't really go wrong.  The Well & Bucket is essentially a trendy pub-bar, a couple of long tables reserved for group bookings and a cute outdoor patio for the sunny days, and of course the sexy 5cc cocktail bar in the basement. 

Rockefeller, broiled with Tabasco, absinthe, spinach and cheese sauce 
The oysters themselves were lean, made more plump with spinach and fluffy cheese sauce. Flavours were alright, a gentle kick from a couple of drops of Tabasco and a drizzle of absinthe to stimulate the taste buds. 

Trio of SlidersDr Pepper brisket, grain mustard remoulade and chipotle; Oxtail chilli cheese dog & Pulled pork shoulder with pickle slaw and bbq sauce 
The brisket and pulled pork were quite similar, we only managed to tell the beef from the pork because of the potent heat from the chipotle, and that was some tongue-numbing stuff. The pork shoulder was easier to stomach except the bbq sauce was overpowering and dominated the flavours. The dog from the chilli dog itself was pretty disappointing, almost like sausages from a can plus traces of oxtail. Nothing gourmet or worth writing home about.

Crab fries with cheese and aioli
These were fries topped with shredded crab meat and a few dollops of aioli. It's obviously canned stuff, so it tasted artificial and engineered, but I gotta say, it's one big can of crab meat. The fries went cold very quickly, as one would expect with a mountain of cold crab meat sitting on it.

Not sure if I could come up with an overall verdict for Well & Bucket. If I am honest, I thought the menu looked better on paper; delivery was a tad sloppy.