Monday, 28 October 2013

Yauatcha, Soho

Sometimes you need somewhere to fill in the post-lunch/pre-dinner part of the weekend.  Not quite ready for a full-on bar, but you want more than just a coffee.  Dessert and a cocktail is the perfect,  if slightly decadent, solution.

Last Saturday afternoon C and I met at Yauatcha, on Soho’s Broadwick Street.  I’ve tried their famed venision puffs before, but haven’t been for lunch or dinner yet (I would definitely like to try some more of their dim sum). Their cakes are displayed at the front (you can take-away too), all intricate, jewel-like and glistening.

You can go in just for dessert, and we sat at the back in the cosy bar.  After a pot of fragrant orchid tea, we moved onto the hard stuff – the lychee martini is particularly good.  We went for a selection of their macaroons – their flavours are interesting, and we chose tonka bean, toasted coconut, milk chocolate and peanut, yoghurt and hazelnut.  The green tea choux bun with hazelnut, and the apricot mille-feuille with pistachio also looked particularly delicious.

Pop in if you need a mixture of something sweet and something boozy one lazy weekend afternoon.

Yauatcha on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Baiwei, Chinatown

I’ve got an increasingly crammed cook book shelf in the little Clerkenwell flat.  After a few impulsive clicks online, I then forget and a shiny new book arrives a few days later.  I carefully leaf through, before they get spattered and a little dog-eared. 

One of my August books was Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice, toted as one of the modern Sichuan bibles.  It’s informative and accessible, with beautiful photography and styling (I especially like the ingredient glossary).  I haven’t had a chance to make a lot yet – the dumpling recipes are excellent (I even made the wrappers), and it’s sparked a new found love of fiery chilli bean paste.

Dunlop has consulted for a few London restaurants, including Barshu, Bashan and the recently opened Baiwei.  It’s an unassuming place just into Chinatown on Little Newport Street, with a big menu (there’s some photos to help).

We shared the Gong Bao tofu (£9ish), slightly tangy with lots of peanuts and melting tofu, which came at the same time as the Dan Dan noodles (£5ish) – soft, slippery, super long with mince & pak choi.  The spicy beef brisket (£12ish) was tender, but a little too hot and aniseedy (I think) for me – should have listened to those three little chilli symbols next to the dish.

I absolutely loved the fish-fragrant aubergine (£9ish), with no actual fish, but delicious squidgy soft aubergine with pork mince.  I have looked through Every Grain of Rice for recipes, and I'll be making the versions of the noodles, tofu and aubergine from there soon.

The portions are big – the two of us over ordered, so it would be good with a bigger group for sharing.  Definitely a place to remember if you want some Sichuan dinner in the sea of slightly lurid ducks hanging in windows in Chinatown.

Baiwei 8 Little Newport Street, London WC2, 020-7494 3605

Baiwai on Urbanspoon
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Sunday, 20 October 2013

Smokehouse, Islington

During my trip to the butcher’s yesterday, the array of different parts of the animal on show made me think how often we forget or ignore lots of cuts.  I've just got some pig cheeks slow cooking in the oven, and this week I was reading how Waitrose are introducing their range of ‘forgotten cuts’, reminding us of other parts of the carcass, which are often super-cheap options. 

I’m a bit squeamish with complete nose to tail eating (I would need a little convincing to eat some tripe/brain/sweetbread), but it’s nice to see restaurants using more interesting cuts and cooking them properly.  The recently opened Smokehouse in Islington is a brilliant example of this, making great use of their smoker and barbecue

From the main courses I had the shortrib bourguignon (£16), their delicious version of the French beef classic, with tender meat, pancetta, rich mash, topped with crispy onions and a kind of gremolata-type herb sprinkling.  M had the darkly sticky, peppered ox cheek (£14.50), with comforting cauliflower cheese and deeply savoury gravy.

We skipped starters to make room for dessert (the brisket roll with Koean gochujang sauce sounds especially tempting).  There are a few intriguing sounding sweet things – I had the Friday pie (£5), a rich combination of dark chocolate and honeycomb.  Another is named Krun Chee Nut, which one of their lovely staff described as a bowl of cereal as a pudding.  M’s white chocolate cheesecake (£6) was excellent too.

It’s great value and relaxed inside, with tables to book in the restaurant part and tables in the bar for walk-ins.  There is a long list for beer lovers (lots of taps on show), and good wines.  At the moment they serve dinner Monday to Friday, with lunch and dinner at the weekend.  The perfect spot for a toasty Sunday lunch as the cold sets in.

(Excuse the photos - it was rather dark in there for my skills!)

Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Spiced Sesame Edamame Beans

Snacks are best when they come crunchy, salty, and more often, a little greasy too.  I challenge you not to munch your way through a big bag of crisps if they are sat in front of you.

But, sometimes I like to make something a little more virtuous to snack on.  Take the little grassy green edamame (or soya) beans, like harder, nuttier broad beans.  They are full of vitamins and a source of protein.  You can now get them in the normal supermarkets if you aren’t near an Asian supermarket (in the freezer section).

You can get the kind in pods and steam with a little sea salt, but I often buy the podded kind, and transform in the oven.  With just a little sesame oil, soy sauce and dried chillis, they are baked until just blistered, golden and crisp.

100g frozen, podded edamame beans (rinsed under the hot tap to start defrosting)
Half teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Generous pinch dried chilli flakes
Glug soy sauce 
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180
  • Mix the beans with the seasoning, and spread on a baking tray
  • Bake in the pre-heated oven for around 15 minutes until golden and crisp, turning a few times in between

Sunday, 13 October 2013

5 of my favourite London food shops

La Fromagerie – they have a bigger version of their cheese store in Marylebone (with a café too), but I prefer the little one in Highbury.  It’s got the properly stinky cheese room at the back, with a few seats to perch at the front to watch the world go by. 

Camisa & Son – a great Italian deli in the heart of Soho at the end of Old Compton Street.  They have a very good selection of fresh pasta, along with cured meats and cheeses – they will also make up sandwiches with the produce to take away and munch on a Soho street corner. (61 Old Compton Street, 8.30am-6pm, closed Sundays)
McKanna Meats – this is my favourite butcher, partly due to location (perfect convenience between work and home).  They have a wide selection, including cuts and meats that are hard to get otherwise (recently grouse, and I’ve bought some great beef short ribs there), along with chorizo, morcilla, Italian sausages etc. (21 Theobalds Road, closed Sundays)

Fortnum & Mason – this can verge on the touristy when busy, but there is something nice and traditional about wandering around their food hall.  It’s all very British, and beautifully packaged – the jars of jams/relishes/pickles and boxes of biscuits are particularly good for presents. 

Gerry’s – not technically food, but this is the very best booze shop in London.  They have any kind of spirit you could possibly want/need, and are happy to give recommendations.  I like staring at the crammed window with its giant bottles of vodka and the long row of all kinds of bitters. 

I’d love to hear about your favourite local shops – anything from butchers to bakers (not so worried about the candlestick makers…).  

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Top 5 pizza places in London

It’s hard not to love pizza with all that melted cheese, and a great chewy, crispy base.  London’s got a lot of Italian restaurants that do pizza, but I have picked my top 5 pizza places that do a truly good version of the Naples classic.  Some of the toppings may upset Neapolitans (with their strict list of classic authentic pizzas), but they do taste excellent. 

Pizza Pilgrims
Pizza Pilgrims – The first restaurant opened on Soho’s Dean Street after starting life as a mobile oven on a van, with typically Neapolitan style pizzas.  Try the fiery njuda version.  They have just opened a second nearby in Kingly Court, with lots of deep-fried joy, including pizza fritta, arancini and deep-fried artichokes with rosemary salt.

Franco Manca – This started with the Brixton Village outpost, with queues still snaking out the tiny restaurant waiting for their sourdough pizzas.  Nicely pared back toppings, and outposts now in Balham, Chiswick, Westfield Stratford and Northcote Road.

Homeslice – They do giant 20 inch versions (some by the slice too), with toppings ranging from ricotta and mushroom, to oxtail at the slightly more extreme end.  They also have good priced prosecco on tap, which can only ever be a good thing. 

Pizza East – The pizzas have been consistently great on the number of times I’ve been, and it’s always buzzy in there.  I’ve always stuck to the Shoreditch one, but they have spread north and west to Kentish Town and Portobello Road.

Polpo – Not the typical large pizzas, but I love their mini pizzette (particularly the cured pork shoulder and pickled pepper). Do try their sweet nutella pizetta for something altogether different – gooey nutella, crunchy praline and icing sugar.  I was converted immediately to the sweet pizza. 

Do you agree with my list, or do you have another favourite restaurant or takeaway that you think is worthy of top pizza status?

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Grillshack, Soho

It’s not enough now to just order your food or drink from a real-life person.  Glued to our smartphones most of the day, do we now want or even need a snazzy bit of technology to do it for us? 

Grillshack ordering

At the newly opened Grillshack on Soho’s Beak Street (on the site that used to be the Alphabet Bar), you can order via an app, or a touch-screen, and even pay by PayPal.  I just used the old-school route of going up to the counter and ordering from the staff, all very friendly. 

Grillshack burger, Grillshack chicken, Grillshack corn

Although some this could be a little gimmicky, the food is not – excellent versions of the simple diner/American type classics.  The menu is short – we tried the juicy burger with some added crispy bacon and cheese and the very moist grilled half chicken.  There were also a few specials including a hot dog, so keep an eye on these.  From the sides our favourite was the grilled corn with chipotle butter and cheese, with a good crunchy radish slaw.  We had the shoe-string fries, but next time I’d go for the French fries as they looked better on next door’s table.

Grillshack menu

It’s all extremely good value too – the generous chicken was £7.95, the burger £4.95 (before extra toppings), with most sides sub £2.  They also do a rump steak with fries and smoked butter for under a tenner. 

Grillshack ice cream cookie sandwich

There are a couple of sweet things – I’d go for the ice cream cookie sandwich, the perfect icy, chewy, chocolatey combination.  The drinks are reasonable too, and for a limited opening period, you can get a glass of wine or bottle of beer free by saying ‘Grillshack on the House’ when you order.

It’s from Richard Caring (owner of The Ivy, Le Caprice, backer of Soho House Group etc.), so he definitely knows what he is doing in an already burger-crowded London.  A bargain spot in the middle of Soho – I’ll be back for their buttermilk apple pancakes with maple syrup (£3.50) one morning soon.

Grillshack on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Casa Negra, Shoreditch

Casa Negra is the sister bar/restaurant to La Bodega Negra.  A similar Mexican menu, and a similarly slightly posy kind of place.  There’s a more normal entrance to this one in Shoreditch, compared to the sex shop entry to the first Soho venue.

It’s all very styled, and a good place to start a Saturday night with a group before heading off to a night of cocktails. 

The menu is made up of tacos, a few salads, and a number of mains.  The tacos are all a little small for their price tags (start at £6ish for 2 little ones), but the braised beef tongue and sea bass with jalapeno and a kind of mayonnaise were very good.  I especially liked the salsas on the side (pots a little too teeny though), especially the tangy citrus, and the green tomato one.

From the mains we had poblano chili (a big, mildly spicy green pepper), stuffed with cheese, deep-fried (yep this is sounding even healthier), with a tomato salsa.  The other was a giant braised beef rib, with little cubes of pineapple – dark and sticky caramelised outside, with tender meat falling off the rib.  Both definitely needed to be shared, as they were too rich to eat by yourself. The sides included a fiery slaw, herbed green rice, pinto beans with bacon and fire-roasted sweet potato.

The most fun is to be had in the bar on the level below.  Named The Playroom, it’s open late with a rather bonkers décor (lots of toys and piñatas hanging from the ceiling) and excellent cocktails – do try the honey Pisco Sour.

Casa Negra on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 6 October 2013

One Leicester Street, Leicester Square

Leicester Square might be the heart of London theatre land.  But’s it’s also full of tourist-trap, rather tacky restaurants. Luckily, you can escape into chic minimalism a few steps away in One Leicester Street, tucked just by Lisle Street. 

Beautiful menu illustration
It’s the perfect place for a pre-theatre meal, with this set menu £16 for two courses and £19 for three (5.30-6.30pm).  Not that the Michelin guide is the be all and end all by any means (the latest list was published last week), but it’s excellent value for somewhere with one star.  They first got a star when the place was its former guise of St John Chinatown – after a change of owner and name for the restaurant and above hotel, along with a few minor cosmetic alterations, the chef remains the same (Tom Harris).

Like St John, the dishes are pared back and very British, with interesting combinations.  From the starters we had the cured duck breast with celeriac, wet walnut and wood sorrel, and the grilled leek, egg and a rich kind of hazelnut paste/puree.

From the mains, there was comforting middlewhite sausage with white beans and turnip tops, soft pearly plaice with fennel, and a simple but delicious plate of roast carrot, childwickbury (goat’s) cheese, dill and crunchy crumbs.

For something sweet, a fragrant apricot and chamomile ice-cream (we would have liked more apricot), topped with toasted oats.  The star was the golden slice of brown butter and honey tart – perfect crisp pastry, with a beautifully subtle, slightly wobbly filling.

It's all very seasonal, with interesting combinations on the daily-changing menus, and the service was lovely – perfect for pre-theatre, or any other time. They also have martini hour in their bar everyday from 6-7pm (half price cocktails), which is reason enough – especially as a safe refuge from the neon lights of Leicester Square.

One Leicester Street on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Berners Tavern, Fitzrovia

Sometimes you want a cosy dining room, with a table tucked away in a dark corner.  Or sometimes somewhere all modern, white and pared back.  But sometimes you want a big grand room, full of gilt and a little pomp.

The Wolseley does this perfectly (I still remember being wowed when I first went at 18 for a birthday treat), but my new favourite dining room is Berners Tavern, part of the just opened Edition hotel just off Oxford Street.  The high ceiling, ornate cornicing, glowing yellow bar, muted leather booths, peachy velvet chairs and walls covered by a hotch-potch of paintings is glamorous and comfortable.

The food is equally lovely.  It’s another of Jason Atherton’s places in London - a busy man after adding Little Social and Social Eating House to Pollen Street Social this year.

Our starters included a delicate and light scallop ceviche with avocado, radish, and a little scoop of lime ice, and crispy lamb breast that came with a little copper pan of rich, deeply savoury butternut and pecorino fregola and lamb marrow crumble.

From the mains we had a couple of perfect steaks with proper, fat duck fat chips, and cod with olive oil mash, fennel and cider (usually clams too).  I had the rack of lamb, perfectly pink alongside some sticky, tender braised neck, spiced aubergine, and apricot couscous, all with a perfect lamb sauce. 

The desserts are ramped up versions of favourites.  A picture-perfect éclair was artfully filled with strawberries, topped with gold leaf and sat next to a scoop of cocoa rich sorbet.  There was also a naughty molten chocolate doughnut heady with cinnamon, and a jar of comforting, squidgy brioche pudding with pear, ginger ice-cream and vanilla creme anglaise – one of my favourite puddings this year.

The seasonal cocktails are very good and playfully named (like in Social Eating House) – especially the Mead, Myself and Aye (including cider brandy and honey mead, complete with baby apple). The service was the right mixture of relaxed, yet polished and attentive.

The beautiful room with food to match – a great place to impress someone.

Berners Tavern on Urbanspoon