Monthly Archives: December 2012

Rock ‘n’ Roll Ramen: An evening in with Bone Daddies

Copyright of Bone Daddies. Sourced from Bone Daddies website

Copyright of Bone Daddies. Sourced from Bone Daddies website

Cuisine: Japanese

Address: 31 Peter Street, W1F 0AR

Area: Soho

Nearest Station: Piccadilly Circus/Leicester Square

Tel.: 020 7287 8581

Website: http://bonedaddiesramen.com/

Pricing: Medium

Good for: Filling meal, Buzzing atmosphere, Warmth in your belly, All about the flavour

It was with great sadness that I heard that Melati on Peter Street (not to be mistaken for Melati on Great Windmill Street *shudder*), my favourite place in all of London to get nasi goreng, was closing down. Many was a post-interview lunchtime spent comforting myself with that stunning plate of hot, tasty and spicy Indonesian fried rice with all the trimmings; now, all gone, like tears in the rain.

But it was with great curiosity that I heard that it was to be replaced by Bone Daddies, one of burgeoning crowd of new ramen houses now serving London’s lucky denizens. I could only hope that they could do justice to the site, and judging from the initial feedback, it looked like it would.

And so, I found myself a willing companion to share the experience with me. It was a horrifically cold day and even colder night, and so she lapped up the suggestion of a steaming hot soup of ramen to warm us both up. Speaking of the cold, I hope that Bone Daddies get their door sorted out – it doesn’t close automatically, meaning that I feel sorry for those sat closest to it. Thankfully, my companion and I were sat some distance away, by the far wall.

It is a busy place. They’ve managed to squeeze in quite a fair few tables (too high for short people like my companion and I – dangling legs is not a cool look), more so than Melati ever did – it gives the place a buzz, but it also made it a bit of a struggle to navigate our way around other diners. Being tucked up at one end of the table, we were both unaware of the condiments that were on the other side of a very lovey-dovey couple, whose intertwined hands would have probably made it very awkward to request pickled garlic, the chilli oil etc. We didn’t particularly need them (the condiments, and possibly the PDA next to us too), but it would have been nice to have actively made the choice not to need them.

We ordered the soft-shelled crab and the tender-stem broccoli as starters. The former dish was wonderful – subtly-spiced crispy pieces of deep-fried crab that imparted a certain je ne sais quoi, something akin to smoky flouryness, when I think about it; probably not the most appropriate description, but I guess that just means you’ll have to try it! As for the latter dish, it was pleasing enough – the tender-stem broccoli had that right level of crunch as well as tenderness – but my companion felt (and I agree) that it could have been significantly enhanced with just a bit of a light stir-fry with onions and garlic. Perhaps that’s just our Hong Kong taste buds getting in the way.

Just as we were finishing the crab and broccoli, our ramen arrived with great flourish – her with the tonkotsu, me with the tantanmen. If I were to judge our dishes just by looks alone, then Bone Daddies has done its job extremely well. Just look at the picture of my tantanmen below.

The tantanmen: rich, creamy, brothy goodness

The tantanmen: rich, creamy, brothy goodness

How can that not be appealing? My companion was struck by extreme food envy, which was only sharpened when I let her try some. That first slurp of that thick, creamy soup from the tantanmen is a real eye-opener, what with the spice hitting you, followed by that sweet and nutty sesame flavour, with everything wrapped up in oily warmth. It was delightfully rich and soothing: the perfect antidote to winter chills.

That tantanmen soup really nailed it for me that night. But let’s not forget the other components of the dish. The noodles were well-cooked and added good carby weight to the bowl. The pork mince was lovely in that it just went everywhere, so that nearly every spoonful of soup had chunks of meat in it (alongside the tender slices of pork floating around in there too), giving real texture and bite to the tantanmen. But no review could be complete without a special mention of the slow-cooked egg, with its gooey and golden yolk just begging to be slurped up. And unlike Tonkotsu, you do get a whole egg (result!). I could have probably done with another piece of bok choy, but just having the one piece doesn’t diminish the tantanmen.

As for the tonkotsu, from what I did try, the broth was surprisingly earthy and deep, signalling to me that yes, Bone Daddies probably did boil some pork bones for a good twenty hours. But, as good as that tasted, I think that the mix of flavours in the tantanmen makes it my outright winner for the night.

Bone Daddies provided me and my companion with a wonderful, absolutely filling meal, and armed us with enough warmth in our bellies to protect us from the cold outside. They did their job well, and I hope that they continue to impress.

VERDICT – Highly recommended. It was good enough for my brother and his girlfriend. It was good enough for me and my companion. It was even good enough for my mother. Perhaps – just maybe – it will be good enough for you too.

Categories: Japanese | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A slice of Bangkok in London: Heat and spice at Naamyaa Café

Elephant-tastic

Welcome to the jungle

Cuisine: Thai

Address: 407 St John Street, EC1V 4AB

Area: Angel

Nearest Station: Angel

Tel.: 020 3122 0988

Website: http://www.naamyaa.com/

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Smart-casual dining, Spice, Filling meal, Fresh ingredients, Buzzing atmosphere, Warmth in your belly

“Did you come because of the magazine?”

The place had become rather busy not too long after we’d arrived at just after 6:30pm. After some impressive reviews in both the Evening Standard and Time Out, perhaps this shouldn’t be so surprising. However, because of these glowing reviews as well as all the hype circulating around town, I was just a bit sceptical as to how good Naamyaa was actually going to be.

As a take on the sort of modern café you would find in Bangkok, it does stand out a bit in straying away from the standard dishes and in offering dishes more attuned to quotidian Thai tastes, but at the same time, I do question how many people are going to order the burgers and/or things like the salad Niçoise, as popular as they would be in Bangkok.

As my friends and I found, the dishes that we really wanted – namely the turnip cake starter and the tom yam goong hotpot for two – were the over-subscribed and hence missing options of the night. Our server promised not to break our hearts with further bad news, and she managed to keep her vow.

So, to snack, we had cashew nuts lightly fried with garlic, chilli and herbs, which was quite revelatory for all of us in terms of flavour combination. And of course, any dish with crunchy garlic and chilli bits has got to be good. It’s a definite must-have snack whilst browsing the rest of the menu.

Just be careful though – if you are not on the ball, they will take the bowl away even if the bottom is carpeted with the delicious crunchy bits. We successfully batted away our overly-eager waitress, but it did become a bit of a running joke that she was constantly eyeing up our empty plates. On the other hand, she has to be commended for her attentiveness.

As for the starters, we ordered the jasmine tea-smoked baby back pork ribs, the Thai baby calamari, and the chicken wings. The ribs were delectable – falling off the bone, tender, sweet and juicy, though my taste buds aren’t well-trained in picking out tea-smoked flavours. The calamari had what I would call a husky flavour, warmth imparted by the mix of spices coating each squiggly piece, all delivered without the customary crunchy batter (which I usually prefer, but in this instance I can forego). The chicken wings, I think though, were the best of the lot, having a real crisp skin overlaying soft and well-cooked meat.

We also ordered the green papaya salad to accompany our starters as our token healthiness for the night. Alas, I was not particularly wowed by it – I felt that it lacked real tartness and bite, and although we were offered and promised spice, it was a bit of a mild affair. Overall, it added little to the meal.

Isaan chicken - delectable grilled chicken

Isaan chicken – delectable grilled chicken

But not so for the main courses that we had. I tried some of Friend A’s beef laksa, and was pleased with its grainy coconut curry sauce; however, though both he and I enjoyed the flavours, I would suggest that if you’ve come to Naamyaa for Thai food, then laksa (being of Malaysian origin) shouldn’t really feature on your radar. The Isaan chicken, on the other hand, should. A bit more of a unknown dish from northeast Thailand (at least when compared to usual Thai restaurant fare), Naamyaa’s version was succulent and fully infused with charcoal flavours – I would have ordered this if Friend B had not gotten to it first (we were operating a policy of trying as many dishes as possible), and I always defer to ladies.

Curried stir-fried soft shell crab - not pulling any punches

Curried stir-fried soft shell crab – not pulling any punches

So, onto my dish – the curried stir-fried soft shell crab rice set. Ignoring the fact that the rice seemed a bit dry and hard (I’m not just saying this because I love my rice soft and sticky), this was a wonderful dish. The lumps of soft-shell crab were distinctly-flavoured, and the meat softly textured – it was a bonus that there was plenty of it mixed up in the thick and highly-spiced curry sauce, amidst the copious amount of chillies and fried spring onion pieces (I looove those). The heat was tempered by a generous side salad that included cucumber, and so I was able to clean everything out of my bowl. It’s fair to say I had a good time with the soft shell crab rice.

Black tapioca pearls in coconut cream, topped with pomegranate seeds and toasted sesame seeds. A bit of a (tasty) mouthful

Black tapioca pearls in coconut cream, topped with pomegranate seeds and toasted sesame seeds. A bit of a (tasty) mouthful

I similarly had a good time with dessert, too. After an impassioned recommendation from our waitress, I changed my original choice of pandan and coconut agar-agar and instead opted for the black tapioca pearls in coconut cream, and was well-rewarded with a very fetching dessert. The pearls were chewy bordering on the too-soft, but the coconut cream was lusciously smooth and superbly enhanced by the crunch of pomegranate seeds and the striking toasted sesame seeds that formed the topping. An imaginative and fun dessert, I felt that that it was far superior to Friend A’s balsamic strawberries with yoghurt ice cream and Friend B’s mascarpone ice cream with strawberries, both of which looked very much like each other once subjected to mixing.

We left that night, warm of belly and content of heart. Naamyaa’s performance that night, in our eyes, justified those glowing reviews and all that hype. Although we did miss out on our tom yam goong and our turnip cake, I guess it means that we’ll just have to return for a second visit… *sigh*

VERDICT – A good place. Naamyaa was a fun experience and we did enjoy our meals, but there’s just something nagging away at the back of mind about the place. Maybe the decorations make it look too slick, maybe it was the dry rice, maybe it was missing out on the turnip cake; I don’t quite know. Just don’t let that get in the way of you going along and giving it a good shot.

Currently listening to: A Day to Remember – The Downfall of us All

Categories: Thai | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Land of the Western Sun: A West London Filipino experience at Sunrise Café

View of Sunrise Café. Sourced from Local Data Search website

View of Sunrise Café. Sourced from Local Data Search website

Cuisine: Filipino

Address: 12 Kenway Road, SW5 0RR

Area: Earl’s Court

Nearest Station: Earl’s Court

Tel.: 020 7373 3840

Website: N/A

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Casual dining, Community feeling, Friendly conversation, Cheap and cheerful

It was the last weekend in October 2012; the first great chill of the winter, when you can really feel it seeping through your clothes and into your bones. Brrrrr. Why did I leave the warmth of my apartment?

Oh, that’s right, to go shopping. Whilst it is pleasing news that Tesco has finally got its act together and is selling select Filipino products (in places distant to me like Wembley and Harrow – booo), at the moment the best place to stock up on those hard-to-get treats is ‘Little Manila’ in Earl’s Court. It is little, and it’s not quite Manila, but there is still a smattering of shops and restaurants (okay, only two restaurants) that proudly fly the Filipino flag. I’d made the trek to Earl’s Court to chase down some ingredients (and impulse-buy a whole range of completely unnecessary yet absolutely yummy treats), and had timed my trip so that as I exited the shops, night was falling fast around me and dinner time was calling. So, here was an opportunity to try the newest (relatively speaking) restaurant on the block – Sunrise Café.

Grated ube, embutido, puto, calamansi concentrate, hopiang baboy, patis, canned laing, pandesal, frozen calamansi... all the things I did not *really* need

Grated ube, embutido, puto, calamansi concentrate, hopiang baboy, patis, canned laing, pandesal, frozen calamansi… all the things I did not *really* need

Sunrise Café is a family-run business that seems to have a real ‘part-of-the-community’ feel – which is good in a way, but also meant that I immediately felt like the only person in there that the owner did not know personally and was not talking to at the time. I would get to have a pleasant and short conversation with him as I left (“hope to see you again, salamat po for coming!”), but upon entering I stood around awkwardly, waiting to know whether I needed to be shown to a table or take one myself, whether I needed to grab a menu myself, or whether I should serve myself from the buffet on the side. Not the best of starts, then. Service finally did arrive with a smile, but alas it would remain relentlessly slow and haphazard the rest of the night.

Feeling the cravings of comfort food, I had opted for lechon kawali (deep-fried pork belly) with a portion of rice. In retrospect I should have gotten the significantly cheaper meal deal option, but this was not brought to my attention at the time of ordering. Nevertheless, it was a good meal.

Lechon kawali done properly. Sunrise Café was not too far off the mark. Sourced from pinoyfavrecipes.blogspot.co.uk

Lechon kawali done properly. Sunrise Café was not too far off the mark. Sourced from pinoyfavrecipes.blogspot.co.uk

The pork was freshly-cooked – which may explain the lengthy time lapse between ordering and eating – and was all that I expected: real crunch of the skin, softness of the fat and chewy meatiness. A very commendable effort, helped along by copious amounts of Mang Tomas All-Purpose Sarsa. The rice was hot and sticky, adding even further to the comfort and homeliness factor of the meal. I washed it all down with a refreshing San Miguel beer (not the Spanish one, but the original Filipino one) – but only because they had forgotten my order of iced buko juice (ordering this on a winter’s night? You crazy?).

So I guess that you could sum up the real story of the evening like so: a rather enjoyable meal let down by a slapdash operation, which I feel means this in-the-end charming café may not become something a bit more than just a neighbourhood diner for the owner’s friends and family. Which is a real shame, as they have the potential to be better and become a ‘destination restaurant’ that even non-Filipinos will want to go to.

VERDICT An okay experience. I rather enjoyed the food – when it eventually came. I rather enjoyed the hospitality of the owner – when it eventually came. In the end, I am willing to go back and try some of their other dishes; their breakfast section looks particularly enticing (meat/fish with fried rice, fried egg, vegetable ‘medley’ and coffee or tea for £5.50…. mmmmm). I just hope that Sunrise Café can show more of the renowned hospitality that the Philippines is known for.

Currently listening to: Arch Enemy – Night Falls Fast

Categories: Filipino | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Steak is what we wanted, and steak is what we got: Flat Iron sets up shop in Soho

Copyright of Flat Iron. Sourced from Flat Iron website

Copyright of Flat Iron. Sourced from Flat Iron website

Cuisine: Steak

Address: 17 Beak Street, W1F 9RW

Area: Soho

Nearest Station: Oxford Circus/Piccadilly Circus

Tel.: N/A

Website: http://flatironsteak.co.uk/

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Friendly conversation, Quality meat, Smart-casual dining, Carnivorous eating, Good sides

Once upon a time, there was an outfit offering steak in a tucked away room above a quaint ickle pub called the Owl and Pussycat, hidden away down a small alley in a distant neighbourhood called Shoreditch. This outfit called themselves Flat Iron, and marketed themselves around a relatively unknown cut of meat called the, er, flat iron. The perfect recipe to remain off the radar and continue in relative obscurity.

Well hello there, Mr Flat Iron

Well hello there, Mr Flat Iron

Pffft. Yeah right. When I did go with friends, it was the last week of their residency at the Owl and Pussycat, and although we were able to waltz in just after 6pm for a table, by the time we left the queue was IMMENSE. Flat Iron had hit upon something golden: a tender, delicious steak at very affordable prices (nearly everyone in our group had the wagyu special, for only £16), in one of the most happening neighbourhoods in London (yeah, I just said happening, urk).

But I’m not here to talk about days of yore. I’m here to talk about Flat Iron’s new base at 17 Beak Street. They quietly opened last week, see, a bit earlier than expected, so I thought that it was the perfect time to rally the troops and organise an outing for some meaty tenderness. One of the troops had been so eagerly awaiting Flat Iron’s opening that he replied to my text before I even had the chance to put the phone down. Expectations were high; Flat Iron had better deliver!

The good delivery started as soon as I walked in the door: with a smile and a warm welcome, I was ushered downstairs to the bar to await my friends and a table, and was pleasantly surprised to find it quite spacious. I hate being asked to wait at the bar for a table, only to find that I am scrunched between the bar stools, the small packed-together tables and busy wait-staff carrying precariously perched plates of food around. Not so at Flat Iron, where I was able to prop myself up at a table and enjoy my negroni and the popcorn that had been popped in beef dripping, all in relative peace and comfort.

It wasn’t long before the others arrived. When Hungry Friend (she’d forgotten to eat lunch – how, I really don’t know) plonked herself down at the table, her eyes popped at the thought of beef-dripping popcorn; and into her mouth they all popped. Thank heavens they’re free and all-you-can-eat, as we must have polished off three cans whilst down there. A friendly note for the Flat Iron crew: starving girls need feeding, and some bar snacks would not have gone unappreciated that night.

But no matter, for even though there were five of us our table was ready within ten minutes and we were guided back upstairs. I suppose the short wait was a result of it being only their second day of being open to the public (and the fact that they have two floors of dining now), but I felt particularly blessed after the queues I’d seen at the Owl and Pussycat. Just as short was the time it took for us to order – with only one main course on offer, do you really need to spend ages deliberating? – as well as get more popcorn for our ravenous Hungry Friend. The amount she devoured was scary.

We tried to take her mind off the wait for our food, but Hungry Friend’s situation was not helped when the kindly staff accidently brought someone else’s order to our table (the spectre of my experience at Patty & Bun back to haunt me?). Although they were quick to realise the mistake, it was still enough time for some salt to be added to one steak, rendering it useless for its original dining destination. So, it had to sit there and wait for the rest of the dishes, taunting Hungry Friend and making the minutes stretch into days. More popcorn and the sympathetic attention of the staff could not ameliorate the situation enough.

Look at those beauties - medium rare flat iron, crispy fries and aubergine bake

Look at those beauties – medium rare flat iron, crispy fries and aubergine bake

So we were thankful when the rest of the food did come. I was concerned that my first dream-like experience back at the Owl and Pussycat would have spoiled my expectations, but I needn’t have worried, as my medium rare steak was glorious: the tender, pink slices that were meltingly soft were full of flavour, so much so that I didn’t feel the need to use any of the sauces our table had on offer. It combined very well with the crispy fries, and even better with the aubergine bake (I forget exactly what was in it) that was juicy and delicious. It was a perfect reflection of that taste experience earlier in the year.

VERDICT – Highly recommended. It is a quality steak; it is served at a great price for what it is; it is centrally-located in Soho. Surely that’s a tick list for success? All five of us thoroughly enjoyed our meal, and left satisfied with the experience, even if there were a couple of service lapses (especially painful for Hungry Friend, as she stared down that lonely, mis-ordered steak that was not hers). These slight lapses, however, I can forgive as ‘early days’ problems needing to be ironed out (maybe with a flat iron?? HA). But with a staff that friendly and attentive, I’m sure Flat Iron will go on to do good, very good. Get in there before the queues build!

Currently listening to: Dem Brooklyn Bums – Guido Slouch

Categories: Steak | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Burgers and redemption: an evening at Patty & Bun

Copyright of Patty & Bun. Sourced from Patty & Bun website

Copyright of Patty & Bun. Sourced from Patty & Bun website

Cuisine: American

Address: 54 James Street, W1U 1HE

Area: Bond Street

Nearest Station: Bond Street

Tel.: N/A

Website: http://www.pattyandbun.co.uk/

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Friendly conversation, Filling meal, Casual dining, Takeaway, Proper service

I was fortunate enough to have visited Joe of Patty & Bun fame twice during his summer residency at The Endurance in Soho. I was initially a bit sceptical, not being particularly keen on cramming myself onto tiny tables between the after-work drinkers to eat something potentially very messy, but my word that first visit back in June was astounding. I don’t know whether it was the Jose Jose burger, the rosemary fries or the smoky sticky chicken wings that did it for me, but I was won over to that crazy man dishing out burgers from behind the bar. Heck, my brother and friend were happy enough that they both ordered SECOND burgers, much to Joe’s disbelief, and perhaps mild disgust. I guess not many people eat two burgers in one go, for we got some recognition on our second visit, the final week of Patty & Bun at The Endurance. It was at that point that I knew that the coming months would be fallow ones indeed…

Jose Jose, chicken wings, rosemary fries. Messy? Of course not!

Jose Jose, chicken wings, rosemary fries. Messy? Of course not!

So I was very excited to hear that you would now be able to find these burgers permanently on James Street. But I was also cautious – how would the transition from short-term residency to permanence be handled? Would the effervescence of the original, slightly anarchic yet thrilling Patty & Bun survive settling down?

My trip last Sunday with a friend was therefore rather enlightening, in that respect. Although the rather dim lighting made it look closed (I got quite scared for a moment then), Patty & Bun was still as welcoming as ever. Friendly and smiley staff made a good first impression; the sight of Joe actively helping out and mingling and chatting with diners made an even better second one. But then the night almost took a turn for the worse, and almost made us doubt whether we’d be back again.

Almost. But first, the story. We made our orders – Lambshank Redemption, Smokey Robinson and rosemary fries – and waited. And waited. After about 25 minutes (time flies when you’re having fun), we politely asked where our food was. “No problem, sorry for the delay”. A bit of hustle and bustle in the service area. “Oh jeez, I’m very sorry, it looks like we already served it, but to the wrong table”. I’m sorry, WHAT? Here we were, two hungry fellows, being told our food had been and gone. They’d somehow managed to mix up the table numbers. Oh dear. This was not looking good.

Our annoyance was soothed somewhat by how apologetic everyone was, and Joe did come over to say that he’d get it sorted pronto. It was therefore not long before our food did arrive: “I’m soo sorry for the wait, guys, I really am, here’s your Hot Chick and Jose Jose. We all good?” Ahhhhhh. If only they had gotten our right burgers. I felt quite bad about mentioning that they were the wrong burgers, but really, getting our order wrong twice? It was looking quite farcical. All we could do was laugh really.

But thankfully, our night was saved by the sterling effort of Team Patty & Bun in trying to make things right. We were gifted those burgers, eventually got our original order through free of charge, had a complimentary extra portion of chips and, to our surprise, were also given a rather potent cocktail jug on the house. All within 10 minutes.

Burgers all up in yo' grill

Burgers all up in yo’ grill

My friend and I were both really impressed by this, as we’d been part of a group who’d experienced a similar order failure at another restaurant; we could not fail to notice how much worse that place was in handling the debacle. At that place, they quite clearly could not be arsed to apologise sincerely for the very lengthy wait, they ardently defended the poor quality of the food that did come as “that’s how we do it, that’s how people like it” and they very grudgingly gave us a 10% discount. Not so at Patty & Bun – they took out all the stops to try and turn around what had been looking to be a rather disastrous evening.  That’s how you ensure that people come back.

Oh, and of course, having pretty damn fine food helps in ensuring the punters return. I devoured that Jose Jose, enjoying the pink juiciness of the meat, the sharp bite of the chorizo and the sweetness of the red peppers, whilst my friend loved the interplay of the caramelised onions and the cheese in his Smokey Robinson. Rather sensibly, we both took our second burgers home for our work lunches the next day (that’s not to say I couldn’t eat that second burger; I mean, I really could. I just didn’t want to. Just saying, it’s not that I’m incapable). And I must say, when I warmed up that Lambshank Redemption in the client’s microwave, people were JEALOUS. Even more so when they could smell the punchiness of the lamb and the feta cheese and see the juices soaking into the bun and running down my fingers. It was very messy and perhaps not very edifying for my first day at the client, but it was damn tasty.

What's that? You didn't manage to get a juicy burger like this Lambshank Redemption at the local sandwich shop for your lunch today?

What’s that? You didn’t manage to get a juicy burger like this Lambshank Redemption at the local sandwich shop for your lunch today?

VERDICT – Highly recommended. As you can probably guess, my main take away from that Sunday night was what genuine effort Joe and his team put in to try and rectify their mistakes. They seemed pretty determined to get things right for their customers, and I like that. I do like their burgers too; you know, since they’re a restaurant, I should probably mention that too. Yeah. Awesome burgers, great service. I’m definitely going back for more.

Categories: American | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments