Monday, 27 April 2015

Chiltern Firehouse - Needs Rekindling

Rewind 2 weeks:
What took me so long to check out Chiltern Firehouse? First the wait for a dinner table was ridiculous, then the reviews in general were so-so, finally the menu wasn’t half as exciting as Nuno Mendes’ Viajante. I lost interest. However one of the things  we have yet to accomplish during my countdown was to have starters, mains and desserts in three different places, choosing only their signature. Brunch at CF was surprisingly easy to book, with their most talked about dishes on the menu.

It was pretty packed on a Sunday afternoon. Shan was already waiting at the bar, and after much confusion and the stunning receptionist admitting that she hadn't brought her brain to work (I had my doubts on its existence), we were seated at the counter. The decor boasts plush homeliness. It feels like a scene from Made in Chelsea (I have only seen the adverts); the female staff were strikingly beautiful in their silky turquoise open-black one-piece uniform, gracefully waltzing between tables with a winning smile. The male staff were exceptionally dressed and dapper, charming their patrons as they explained the menu. Needless to say the majority of the clientele were smartly dressed in casual dresses or jackets, sipping cocktails and champagne.

We opted for a couple of champagne cocktails too, each with a sickly sweet romantic name that would make you blush when ordering even if you were on a date. And at a whooping £18 each; I could almost hear my wallet wail - this price would get me two funky bespoke cocktails at Purl across the road, which by the way, is one of the best speakeasy cocktail bars in London. Nonetheless these were nice and syrupy. While I usually like sitting at the counter to watch chefs at work in the open kitchen, it was uncomfortably warm - more from the lamp than the grill we worked out. 20mins in, we were ready to order our starters for the day.

Crab Stuffed Donuts
We debated if ordering nibbles counted as a separate course. The conclusion is obvious. 

Our server, in a white casual jacket that made him look the part at the Royal box at Wimbledon, recommended it. Meh. It really wasn’t that special. A teaspoonful of shredded crabmeat mayo wedged between a cut-open mini donut; they could have made more effort say, with an explosive mouthfeel. To be fair, our debate on what counted as a starter was much more interesting.

Steak Tartare pine nuts, chipotle & Firehouse hot sauce
This was excruciatingly disappointing. The dish arrived semi-mixed; the roughly chopped cubes of raw beef was already dressed and coated in a creamy citrusy sauce, but then there was two more blobs of sauce and a raw egg yolk. Upon mixing the tartare became an unrecognisable slimy mess, where the sauces have overpowered all delicate flavours from the beef. But that’s not it, the dish came with even more Firehouse hot sauce on the side, in case you wanted to make sure the cow starts swimming before drowning to death. Yes the whole ensemble was very pleasing to the eye, just failed everything else.

Lobster and Crab Omelette potatoes, chervil & coral mayo
Shan opted for the posh omelette. The first thing he noted was the smell of greasy food, not dissimilar to Chinese fried rice. There was plenty of lobster and crab meat, springy and succulent, but the oceanic sweetness was drowned by thick mayonnaise sauce and heavy seasoning. It wasn’t a bad omelette, the flavours were good; what it lacked was the finesse one would expect for finer foods. 

The bill came to an eye-watering £95 for 2. We were sure it wasn’t the food we were paying for. It was a surreal experience, a bit like being served cold cheese on toast at a wedding; I had a great time but the food was the only let-down. I had high hopes for Nuno Mendes, and his take on modern American cuisine didn't do it for me. On the plus side, at least we didn’t wait for dinner.

1 Chiltern Street
Tel: 0207 073 7676

Chiltern Firehouse on Urbanspoon
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Sunday, 19 April 2015

Sweet Sorrows

Everything happens for a reason.

I’ve spent a lot of time feeling second-rate in the last few months; relationships that make you feel more alone than being alone aren’t great. To break away I thought long and hard about what makes me happy. While I still can’t put a finger on exactly what gets me smiling, I figure a change of scenery would do me good.   

At that, I’m moving on from London.

I have called London home for 18 years. Naturally I have accumulated my fair share of bric-a-brac, to which I have all kinds of emotional attachment. I’m leaving almost everything behind, with the exception of:

1) Thanks to my childhood sweetheart I have developed a habit of sending myself an unusual postcard from every place I visit. And over time I started a collection of postcards from my beloved friends – I only like the arty ones. It’s a heart-warming gesture that they have thought of you on their travels, picked out a postcard, brought your postal address, bought stamps and /or found a post office... These I take with me.

2) The delicious memories of London. It wouldn’t make sense to leave without revisiting some of the eateries that I know I will miss. Not only because they do brilliant food, but also because I’m unlikely to find anything like them in my new hood.

Flat Iron: Rhubarb & Custard donuts and cocktails in the bar before heading upstairs for some easy-going meat

Patty & Bun: We decided to have one course at each of our selected restaurants. We chose to start at Chiltern Firehouse (review to follow) then Patty n Bun for for mains, finished with La Patisserie des Reves. Still one of my favourite burger joints in town.

Lucky Chip: Oh Kelly Lebrock, how I missed thee. These guys have moved to Dalston from the Sebright Arms in Bethnal Green. Shan's first and he went for El Chappo, which was freaking awesome but if only Tom Selleck was on the menu!

Smack Lobster: In addition to the usual rolls, we tried the lazy lobster too this time, chilled chunks lobster meat with lemon mayo; not as tasty as the grilled lobster but it serves well as a lazy snack. It was still empty on this weekday evening visit; on one hand I'm concerned if it will stay in business, yet I must admit the quiet intimacy in basement is quite sexy. I pray this will still be here when I come back next.

Monty's Deli @Maltby Street: Been a sucker for the reuben sandwiches here since I first tried it last year. Shame the specials were out, but hands down the best salt beef in town.

Tayyabs: Wouldn't be proper to bid London adieu without a trip to the London Institution

3) This. I plan to do justice to the name of this blog, and expand the boundaries of the culinary delights yet to come. It may no longer be London Wingz in terms of physical presence, but Wingz remains London at heart.

Unfortunately little Tofu has to stay; at least he has found a better home.

There is one person in particular that I have utmost reluctance to part from; ironically the decision to move away has brought us closer. I remain hopeful, because everything happens for a reason.

A new chapter begins.

"Parting is such Sweet Sorrow" - William Shakespeare

Friday, 10 April 2015

Barrafina Adelaide Street - Just as Good

Countdown Continues…
I love Barrafina. I hate the queue. As if standing behind a row of people chomping through plates and plates of immaculate-looking food wasn’t torturing enough, the open kitchen sends waves of mouthwatering food perfume that gets the stomach roaring. The good news is there is now a Barrafina No. 2 on Adelaide Street. It doesn’t make the queue any shorter, don’t be silly. It’s simply another queue.

Shan has given the new tapas bar his nod of approval. Twice. I know I’ll miss Spanish tapas so I wanted make sure I check out the new Barrafina. The slick tapas bar follows the same style as the one in Soho; a long marble bar paired with red leather stools, with a great view to the open kitchen. The wait was minimal during this Easter weekend, we were seated within 20mins or so. 

Herb-crusted Sweetbreads with Tartare sauce
The lumps of sweetbread were coated by herbs before deep-frying, served on a bed of extra creamy tartare sauce. I liked the idea; thin crispy shell enveloping velvety richness. Problem was the smaller morsels were more cooked through than the larger pieces, and inevitably had a coarser texture. It didn’t become grainy though, just not as enjoyable and definitely not the same as Casa Malevo.

Jamon de Bellota 5 Jotas
One of the best things about Europe. I shall miss this.

Skate Wings
Skate wing is one of my favourite fish. The seemingly difficult and bony part of the fish is packed with melty, gelatinous collagen, the slithery flesh effortlessly falls off the bones by gently scrapping lengthwise. The thick portion of wing was perfectly cooked (which translates to marginally undercooked for me), mildly seasoned and lightly grilled to retained its succulence. The olive puree and capers on top was intense and balanced well with the white fish. It was very Barrafina.

Suckling Pig
The slab of suckling pig was beautifully roasted; the crispy skin shattered away as we sank the knife into the meat. The meat was delicate and milky, with a thin layer of lard under the skin that added some fragrant nuttiness. Just how suckling pig should be.

Braised Ox-Tongue, crushed potatoes
The braised ox tongue was tender but retained its chew and springiness from the tendons. The jus, though flavoursome and had the right consistency, lacked surprises. The potatoes were particularly fluffy and crumbled away with a soft poke from the fork, together with the skinny crostini, the ensemble worked well.

Quail Escabeche
The quail was roasted to a perfect medium and then basted in a syrupy glaze to finish. The bird itself was tender, but the gamey flavours were masked by the very sweet sauce with apricots and dates. Perhaps it’s because I don’t usually like fruits in savoury dish (except pineapples) but I felt the sweetness somewhat drowned the quail. Compared to the other dishes, I thought this was off-balanced and less precise.

Milk Fed Lamb’s Kidneys
They have cleared our plates and cutlery when we saw this arriving for our neighbours; it just looked too interesting. And I’m so glad we went for it. These were nothing like the ones we had at St John’s; the diced kidneys had a fatty and luscious mouthfeel, slowly dissolved as the strands of interwoven fat melted away. Come to think of it, the buttery richness wasn’t dissimilar to bone marrow, except this had more bounce and substance. And the charcoal smokiness from the charred edges just gave it its winning edge – my favourite of the meal.

Still one of my favourite tapas bars in London. In comparison to the Barrafina on Frith Street, this new one on Adelaide Street has a more adventurous menu in terms of ingredients. They have expanded its menu beyond the usual lamb chops and chicken thighs, delved into the daring land of offal and brains. Quite rightly so as both the lamb kidneys and sweetbread were excellent. I wasn’t brave enough to try the brain on this particular evening, perhaps if we have more wine flowing... No. Still no. If I get a chance, I’d come back for the oysters and Iberico pork ribs, half the kitchen team recommended them.

10 Adelaide Street
Covent Garden

No Reservation

Barrafina on Urbanspoon
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Monday, 6 April 2015

Salvation in Noodles - Amen

My countdown to London posts begins...

Salvation in Noodles opened last year and it must have fallen off my radar amidst all the other ramen bars popping up around the same time. Frankly after the traumatic experience at United Ramen, I crossed out anything that didn’t sound remotely authentic. And admit it, we all have an underlying sense of reluctance to try the other Vietnamese restaurants once we have found our favourite; mine is Song Que.

So when Lichan suggested Salvation in Noodles (SIN) in Dalston, I was sceptical. That said this guy knows his food; I didn’t have a counter-proposal either after Jer hash-tagged ‘yawn’ to Song Que. The small restaurant is simple in its setup, more trendy and stylish with the bare bricks and Plumen bulbs than the usual Viet joint, and it looks more like a coffee shop. 

Black sesame crackers
I was the first to arrive and ordered a Vietnamese beer and some black sesame crackers, which came with a syrupy dip. The two Melbournians arrived just in time to start breaking into the massive cracker. Moreish but perhaps a tad too hard for my liking.

Phu Quoc Wings / Crispy Chicken wings topped with fish sauce and crispy garlic (front)
Goi Cuon / Vietnamese Summer rolls with Pork Belly and Prawns (back)
Ah the battle for best wings in London is on. Seriously good wings with super succulent meat enveloped by a thin crispy coat of honeyed fish sauce marinade. The flavours were on par with the Smoking Goat version; these had a lighter batter but the wings were probably marginally less plump. It’s a close call. 

It’s hard to pack surprises into summer rolls, but they took a crack at it by slipping some thin slices of pork belly under the springy rice wrapper. It was more lean pork than pork belly though, so the gelatinous lard was missing. That said with enough noun cham soaked up by the rice noodles paired with bouncy prawns, these can’t go wrong.

Cha Gio / Vietnamese Fried Spring rolls with Pork & Wood-ear Mushroom
These were better than most spring rolls on Kingsland Road too. The finely mince pork mingled with a good ratio of crunchy mushroom and vermicelli to keep it bouncy, wrapped in a thin, brittle shell. Great start.

Pho Bo / Thin Rare steak and beef balls in an ox-tail soup
Lichan and I both opted for the classic beef pho; him with extra beef balls. The beef bone broth had depth, oozing with bovine richness without being greasy. The squeeze of lime lifted the meatiness and added another layer to the soup. The pink wafer thin slices of beef melted in mouth, even better than the ones at Song Que. However I did miss the tendons, tripe and briskets, the beef balls were simply no match.

Bun Bo / Hue Beef Brisket & pork in a hot & spicy lemongrass soup
Jer had a different type of noodles, which was like a thicker vermicelli with more bounce than the slithery pho. The soup looked more spicy than it tasted, the heat was quite subdued in comparison to the lemongrass fragrance. It was a great broth, I just prefer the classics.

I was pleasantly surprised by SIN. I particularly like the short but specialised menu that had a clear focus, keeping things straight forward. Freshly prepared food, quality beer list and a chilled ambience - it was a winner. If Kingsland Road is the centre of Pho Universe, SIN does enough to start its own little galaxy. Salvation in Noodles? Amen.

122 Balls Pond Road
N1 4AE
Tel: 0207 254 4534

Salvation in Noodles on Urbanspoon
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