Monthly Archives: July 2013

A shanty down by the shore: Seafood shackin’ at Bonnie Gull

Copyright of Bonnie Gull. Sourced from Bonnie Gull website

Copyright of Bonnie Gull. Sourced from Bonnie Gull website

Cuisine: British

Address: 21A Foley Street, W1W 6DS

Area: Fitzrovia

Nearest Station: Goodge Street

Tel.: 020 7436 0921

Website: http://www.bonniegull.com/

Pricing: High

Good For: Fresh seafood, Fresh ingredients, Seasonal menu, Place for romance, Smart-casual dining

“It’s okay to eat seafood, as fish don’t have feelings”, roughly goes the little saying scrawled along the top of one of the walls in Bonnie Gull. Surely a sentiment that some of our vegan friends may not share, but I’m not one to quibble with a restaurant that is all about the seafood; they must know what they’re on about, right?

Me and my friend (check out her blog, Stuff I Love to Do, it’s rather lovely) were quite excited about the prospect of some top-notch seafood and so had come with stomachs prepped after respective hard days of work. However, as the menu is extremely seasonal and dependent on the day’s catch, I was a bit hesitant about what would await us: whether the dishes would be tantalising (think scallops, crab, lobster, tuna, meaty fish etc.), or just frankly a bit beyond my limits (think jellyfish, razor clams, sea cucumber, abalone, dancing squid… *shudder*).

Scallops and stuff

Scallops and stuff

Imagine my excitement then when they had Isle of Man queenies as one of the starters. Accompanied by new potatoes, samphire, crunchy bits and other things that escape my non-photographic memory, it was a fairly straightforward dish that allowed the tenderness and juiciness of the scallops to speak for themselves, with their sweetness enhanced by the sea saltiness of the samphire. Samphire was just made to go with the bounties of the sea, despite some protestations from my friend (which she eventually overcame). It was a great start to the meal, and certainly built our appetite.

We were further excited to see both lobster and crab on the menu, but our enthusiasm was dampened when we were informed that the crab had been sold out (this appeared to be a lie, as a table that arrived after us managed to obtain some of the delectable crustacean… rightly or wrongly, we wished that table the illest of our feelings that night, boo hiss). And so, instead of constructing a purely shellfish evening for ourselves, we had to invite turbot to the table.

A rather fishy piece of culinary art

A rather fishy piece of culinary art

It ended up being a rather inspired choice. I had turbot in a herby crust was served with a stuffed deep-fried courgette flower, courgette tempura, samphire and cockles, and was set upon an artful display of pea purée. The turbot was cooked so that it was meltingly soft and still meaty; the herby crust that accompanied it added some contrasting texture and some delightful earthy flavours that made me feel that there was a bit of ‘surf and turf’ going on here – a theme perhaps reflected in the dual use of courgettes and samphire…? The pea purée went well with it all and was good mixed in with the cockles (which were rather grittier than ones I’ve had previously). Overall, a good meal.

Lobster and chips - as good a shot as I'll get (sorry I didn't stand on my chair to get the aerial view)

Lobster and chips – as good a shot as I’ll get (sorry I didn’t stand on my chair to get the aerial view)

As for my friend’s lobster – well, she is a Happy Lobster Girl, and she was pretty satisfied with what was placed in front of her, so I’ll trust her judgement. She did compare the portion size a bit unfavourably to Burger and Lobster, but I don’t believe the quality of the lobster nor the preparation were up for dispute.

Well-fed and well-watered, I found Bonnie Gull to be pretty good fun and a wonderful insight into some of the great seafood surrounding this little island of ours. Considering that I had a pathological (and unexplained) hatred of all things fishy and crustacean-like for most of my life (I really, really don’t know why), I think that’s a pretty big statement to come from my lips.

VERDICT – A good place. Whilst Bonnie Gull didn’t quite transport us to the British seaside (a cheap and cheerful chippie/cockle and whelk stall would probably do that for me more effectively than a high-priced concept restaurant), we got a fine taste of good, fresh, maritime produce in deepest driest London. Dishes that let the seafood speak for itself – not much more is needed.

Currently listening to: Twin Atlantic – Eight Days

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Categories: British | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Hoxton Hog: Dinner at the Ginger Pig Café

Copyright of The Ginger Pig Café. Sourced from The Ginger Café website

Copyright of The Ginger Pig Café. Sourced from The Ginger Pig Café website

Cuisine: American

Address: 231 Hoxton Street, N1 5LG

Area: Hoxton

Nearest Station: Hoxton

Tel.: 020 7749 0705

Website: http://thegingerpigcafe.com/

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Carnivorous eating, Casual dining, Filling meal, Chilled atmosphere

My brother was a very lucky man recently. Why, I hear you ask? He had not one, not two, but THREE meals to celebrate his recent milestone birthday: one with each parent and one with friends. Now, with the parents, he predictably chose some rather, erm, ‘grown-up’ *cough* pricey *cough* experiences (Balthazar and Hawksmoor) to be treated out to, but his friends opted for something a bit more within budget and a bit more down with the kids.

And so it was that on a Wednesday night we found ourselves traipsing down Hoxton Street – a street that one of the group used to live on some years back, and had fondly dubbed Crack Alley back then (or something similar – you know me with my drugs and thoroughfares, all interchangeable and mix-and-match) – being led to a ‘secret’ location.

The Ginger Pig Café must be a well-kept secret then, because it was fairly quiet that Wednesday. The few couples there who were probably looking forward to a nice, quiet and intimate meal may very have been a bit put-off by the arrival of a boisterous birthday crowd (mwahahaha). On the other hand, I quite liked that we could very nearly say that the place was ours that night.

Simple and parsimonious are the two words that spring to mind when I remember the setting: tiled floors, straightforward wooden chairs and tables, and little baskets/tins of condiments on each table. The Ginger Pig is trying to evoke a bit of an old caff feel – it is a ‘café’ after all, duh – and of course this fits in with the whole small-time, chilled neighbourhood atmosphere of the place. Perfect, I guess, for local Hoxtonites (and interlopers such as our good selves) to call home.

The only beer they serve on tap is Meantime – a good brewery, but it would have been nice to see some of the local alternatives being given some face time. The wine selection looked quite interesting, drawing on a lot of French and Italian choices from what I can remember, and covered a good price range, and was attractively put on show (a downside I could think of this was that other diners and even your date would be able to see very clearly exactly how much you paid for your wine… but that’s just the snob in me coming out now).

Does what it says... on the wall

Does what it says… on the wall

And so, we have an English caff, with French wines, serving… American-inspired food? I settled for the hickory home-smoked pork belly with chips, pickled gherkins and coleslaw, which was good as it sounds. It was a lovely chunk of pork belly, cooked tender and juicy on the inside and charred and crispy on the outside; these guys seem to care about the meat they dish out to hungry diners, and it is a care that extends to a well-balanced coleslaw and fluffy chips.

Beauty and the beast

Beauty and the beast

It was therefore a shame that the barbecue sauce seemed so… clichéd and generic. They could have gone with something a bit more exciting or daring (a bit Japanese, with teriyaki? A bit Italian, with apricot and sage? Or what about Filipino – OH YES ADOBO OR TOCINO MARINADES OHMIGOD THAT WOULD BE GOOD), but instead they opted for an average barbecue sauce that was squizzed rather sloppily all over the place. I’m sorry, but to me it seemed like they splashed mediocrity over an otherwise brilliant dish.

"...like they splashed mediocrity over an otherwise brilliant dish"

“…like they splashed mediocrity over an otherwise brilliant dish”

The rest of the table headed straight to the ‘home made ground beef’ section to make their choices. Now, call me a bit dim (actually, please don’t), but a brief glance at the description did not lead me to immediately assume that what the Ginger Pig actually meant were burgers. After all, there was no mention of a bun anywhere, which seems to be a big no-no for many burger joints these days that talk about their brioche buns etc.

A rather quaint and traditional 'home made ground beef' dish

A rather quaint and traditional ‘home made ground beef’ dish

I only made the link between ground beef and burgers when they arrived on the table, stacked high and with knives thrust deep into them to keep their burger integrity. The general opinion was that these were very good burgers – cooked with as much care as went into my pork belly, with an excellent selection of fillings (the El Panchito with Monterey Jack cheese, chorizo, guacamole, red peppers, chimichurri and chipotle sauce was a winner of a burger), but rather interestingly they were categorised as “amazing pub burgers”, rather than in the same league as the numerous burger specialists populating London these days (price-wise, the Ginger Pig is a bit cheaper too). Choice of descriptor and category aside, I was a bit jealous of what I saw… maybe next time it will be burger time for me.

And if it weren’t so far away in Hoxton Land, I would venture there for their breakfasts. New Cross may only be twenty minutes away from East London, but that’s twenty minutes too far on a Saturday morning…

VERDICT – A good place. Everyone involved had a brilliant time and ate very heartily and well. It’s a charming little place that has some very enticing options on the menu (all offered at a reasonable price), and they seem to take care over what they do… the only thing stopping me from being more enraptured by the Ginger Pig is that barbecue sauce. Deal with that, and things will be just hunky dory.

Currently listening to: Metallica – For Whom the Bell Tolls

Categories: American | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I want to break free: On the highway out of Canary Wharf to Noodle Street

Copyright of Noodle Street. Sourced from Noodle Street website

Copyright of Noodle Street. Sourced from Noodle Street website

Cuisine: Chinese

Address: 15-17 Pennyfields, E14 8HP

Area: West India Quay

Nearest Station: Westferry

Tel.: 020 7987 8688

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

Pricing: Cheap

Good For: Lunchtime fix, Filling meal, Cheap and cheerful, Smart-casual dining, Takeaway

It’s been over a month since I was placed with my client in Canary Wharf.

I find it an absolutely fascinating place, evoking as it does for me a real feel of Central in Hong Kong – the shopping malls, the high-end stores, the skyscrapers, the bankers… but alas, I have found it lacking in good options for Asian, and particularly Chinese, food.

For East Asian options, yes, there is a Royal China, and yes there is a floating restaurant somewhere, and yes there is Itsu, but there is also Wasabi (OH MY GOD WHY DOES THAT PLACE EXIST!?). And as far as I can determine, there is nothing else on the Canary Wharf estate that offers a quick, cheap and cheerful Chinese meal.

This proved rather problematic the other day, when I was struck by an almighty craving for char siu fan at lunchtime. Okay, problematic is an understatement – it was seriously bad. It was an itch that needed scratching, but it was seven long hours before I was able to stumble into one of the Chinese takeaways in New Cross and order some char siu; I think I got a momentary glimpse into the life of a crack addict.

Will someone put this poor sod out of his misery?

Will someone put this poor sod out of his misery?

The next day, I was pointed in the direction of one of the other business analysts who told me about a small place, called Noodle Street, that she quite rated some distance away from the office (‘some distance away’ as in “difficult to squeeze into a short lunch”). Hmm. I had some conflicting thoughts here: a) I had heard her rating Pizza Express as offering some of the best pizzas she’d ever had (I’m such a snob, right?), b) Noodle Street made it sound a bit generic and potentially like a bland pan-Asian restaurant, c) it could be just some cheap and tacky takeaway, and d) was their char siu any good?

It could do, but it did not seem to be the most promising of solutions.

Nevertheless, since last Friday was rather quiet, I decided to take my full lunch hour (and maybe a few minutes more…! Naughty me) and make the trek to check this place out. I hopped on the DLR at Canary Wharf and within minutes I was stepping off at Westferry, moments away from Noodle Street. “Not such a bad journey”, I thought to myself. “Maybe I won’t just get a takeaway – maybe I’ll have a sit down”.

And it’s a decent place for a sit down – cool interiors framed by sleek, clean and modern lines and a green colour code, with pretty awesome-looking bamboo holders for the chopsticks.

I'll just grow my own bamboo, okay? Sourced from Noodle Street website

I’ll just grow my own bamboo, okay? Sourced from Noodle Street website

I then browsed the menu – it was mostly Chinese (with some pan-Asian flourishes), and had some rather surprising entries: turnip cake, xiao long bao, grilled char siu bao, scallop siu mai, and sago pudding for dessert. And look! There it is! Char siu fan! Okay, this wasn’t just some cheap and tacky takeaway with a standard menu; there seemed to be some thought that had gone into this place. This was starting to look promising…

“But”, I hear you say, “crack on it with mate, how was the char siu fan??” Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but I did not have any. Instead, I was tempted away by the salt and pepper pork chops with egg fried rice, as I had a fleeting vision of a similar dish that I had in Café de Coral back in Hong Kong some years back.

Salt and pepper pork chops with egg fried rice. So meaty.So eggy. So... ricey?

Salt and pepper pork chops with egg fried rice. So meaty.So eggy. So… ricey?

And I think I chose well. The egg fried rice was not greasy at all and had not been over-fried, allowing the rice to retain its fluffiness. The broccoli again was allowed to retain some of its natural crunchy characteristic and was not over-cooked.

And as for the pork: wow. It was amazingly flavourful, with a wonderful balance of the salt and the pepper, enhanced by sweet and spicy garlic-spring onion-chilli mix in which the pork had been fried. The meat itself was tender enough to be cut into by my spoon, and there was more than enough of it on the plate. For £6.80, it was a fairly sizeable portion with all the components in good proportions to each other.

What more can I say about this dish? It is full of comfort, flavour and happiness and evokes memories of Hong Kong. I am salivating just thinking about it. I need to go back, even if just for that dish. And having completed the 10-15 minute walk back, it is definitely doable in a normal lunch hour.

It's really not that far away from Banker-Land

It’s really not that far away from Banker Land

But of course, the original reason why I went there was for the char siu fan. Let’s hope that Noodle Street can similarly deliver on that dish too. And then I can move on to the beef ho fun, and then the dim sum… the temptations just keep on coming.

VERDICT – I may have been only once, and I may be lionising this place purely based on its local context and not the wider scene of Chinese food in London, but I don’t care. It provided an absolutely scrumptious meal, quick service, relief from the scorching sun, and most importantly of all, a fantastic alternative to the chains of Canary Wharf (j’accuse, Wasabi, j’accuse!). I will most definitely be going back for that char siu fan

Currently listening to: Coheed and Cambria – Number City

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