Monthly Archives: August 2013

A brush with tiger’s milk: Having ceviche at, er, Ceviche

Copyright of Ceviche. Sourced from Ceviche website

Copyright of Ceviche. Sourced from Ceviche website

Cuisine: Peruvian

Address: 17 Frith Street, W1D 4RG

Area: Soho

Nearest Station: Leicester Square/Tottenham Court Road

Tel.: 020 7292 2040

Website: http://cevicheuk.com/

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Sharing many dishes, Introduction to new foods, Efficient service, Good cocktails, Zing, Buzzing atmosphere

Wow. I’d never tried octopus that good before. Seriously. The texture, the taste, the marinade… I would decimate the world’s population of octopus if I could guarantee that they would end up as this dish.

Let’s rewind a few hours. I was feeling rather sluggish after helping get a birthday girl absolutely hammered the night before (she’d boldly claimed that she was “remarkably sober” after dinner. Was that the reddest flag you’ve ever seen?), and was in need of a hearty meal, for I can assure you that thin, cold pizza, no matter how tasty, does not quite cut it.

I was therefore a bit concerned that my suggestion of Ceviche for dinner that night with a friend was a bit ill-thought through – they specialise in small Peruvian dishes, which to my mind did not quite scream, “I am a meal that will kick your hangover’s arse”.

I need not have worried though. Through a skilful and deft selection process (me and my friend are naturals at this, obviously), we managed to secure for ourselves some pretty amazing dishes.

And what was very surprising was the speed at which these things arrived at our bar-side perches. The place was full and they were only able to give us stools at the bar – not too cramped, not too uncomfortable, but all just a bit high to be good for normal-sized *cough* people like my good self – but that did not seem to get in the way of swift service: I hadn’t even had time to decide what my back-up cocktail would be (my original non-alcoholic choice not being available) when BOOM, the first dishes arrived.

To start with, we had the Don Ceviche (fresh sea bass ceviche in Amarillo chilli tiger’s milk, limo chilli, sweet potato and red onions) to enliven our taste buds and whet our appetites. For those not in the know, ceviche is essentially good cuts of raw fish, usually sea bass, marinated in a flavoured and spiced citrus mix that is often known as tiger’s milk. A very tantalising dish, of which we hoped the Don Ceviche would be an apt introduction.

The sea bass was chunky and soft, with a great texture in each bite. The marinade was zingy and crisp, with the chilli working together with the citrus/vinegar to really sting your mouth (note to self: do not have acidic dishes when you have a mouth ulcer… ouch). It was flavourful and rather more-ish.

The Lomo Saltado (beef fillet, sliced, flame cooked with red onions, tomatoes and proper chips) was ordered under stern instructions from my brother, Mr Beef Man himself, and it did not disappoint. The strips of beef were rare and tender (a bit too rare for my friend), and had a delicious umami feel about them, encased in a slightly smoky grill flavour. The oily marinade was good for dipping the chips into, but maybe if it had been made a bit saucier, we would have something more substantial to work with.

Don Ceviche and his companions, Pulpo y Chorizo

Don Ceviche and his companions, Pulpo y Chorizo

But the stand-out dish, as you’ve probably guessed (if you were paying attention earlier on), was the pulpo y chorizo (marinated and braised octopus and chorizo skewer, with a samphire and black quinoa salad). I will admit that the chorizo was the main draw for us, but woah – that octopus made a name for itself. ‘Succulent’ is definitely the word that springs to mind: juicy and tender with real substance to it, it was the texture of the octopus that really won me over. And it was a perfect match with the chorizo and the samphire salad (and I guess the quinoa too…? Slightly superfluous though). We both enjoyed this so much that we had a second portion sent over straight from the kitchen to satisfy our salivating appetites.

As a bit of an after-thought, we thought that the second order of pulpo y chorizo would benefit from being accompanied by some chicken saltado tequeños (wanton [sic] fritters filled with cheese, chard and Botija olives), primarily because we were intrigued to find out what wanton food was like. It was rather restrained; tasty and chunky filling, crispy and thin skin… a good fried dumpling, but disappointingly not excessive or gratuitous or even faintly promiscuous.

This was all a good spread for two people (if perhaps a bit pricier than expected… curse our hungry stomachs and their desire for a second wave of food), and most certainly met the criteria of being a hearty, fulfilling meal. Furthermore, although I was a bit wary of hair of the dog, my El Beso cocktail (lemongrass infused pisco, fresh lemongrass, lime, ginger and guanabana juice) was an excellent pick-me-up, keeping with the zingy feel of the evening – a kiss, if you will, to rekindle the life in my hangover-ridden body (eerruugh cheeeesy).

As the service was quick and efficient, and the food was swiftly delivered to our perches, we were in, fed and out all in just over an hour – and that only because we decided to skip dessert and go to Haagen Dazs in Leicester Square in order to develop diabetes.

VERDICT – Highly recommended. It has a fun and fresh atmosphere, which when teamed up with quick service and some killer dishes makes this a properly good dinner outing. Ceviche did a good job in introducing me and my friend to Peruvian food, and did so in an unashamed and bold manner which fits in with the rather vibrant and lively feel they’ve got going there. But less talk, more pulpo y chorizo, mmkay?

Currently listening to: Chthonic – Kaoru

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

The Adobros

https://i2.wp.com/theadobros.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Logo500x500.png

So you may have heard the buzz…

The Adobros has finally hit London, bringing our offering of Filipino food to the hungry, oh-so hungry masses! And it will not be long until you will have a chance to give it a shot: our first supper club dates are on 14th September and 28th September.

Let’s wind the story back a bit though. Me and my bro, the bros in the Adobros, have always enjoyed cooking – for ourselves, for our parents, and for our friends. And one dish that we have always loved cooking and eating is the Filipino national dish, adobo.

It is a sublime mix of flavours: a wonderful blend of the sourness of vinegar, the savouriness of the soy sauce, the sweetness and bite of the garlic, and perhaps the fire of the occasional chilli… it is such a classically Filipino flavour that speaks of comfort, home, family, friendship and joy. For the millions in the Filipino diaspora worldwide, adobo is an instant cure to homesickness and for me and my brother, it is a reminder of our heritage and our home.

And so, wanting to share some of that with the lucky denizens of London, we have decided to combine forces and do our bit to promote this amazing dish, as well as the other great flavours of the Philippines, in a way that is fun, modern and social.

So please do come join us as we do our best to cook up a storm, entertain you with our wit and charm and leave you feeling absolutely stuffed and chuffed.

Go on. It’s not much ado-bout nothing!!!

Categories: Filipino, Supper Club | Tags: | 2 Comments

Kain na tayo! Friends and merienda at Lakwatsa

Copyright of Lakwatsa. Sourced from Lakwatsa website

Copyright of Lakwatsa. Sourced from Lakwatsa website

Cuisine: Filipino

Address: 7 Blenheim Crescent, W11 2EE

Area: Portobello Road

Nearest Station: Ladbroke Grove

Tel.: 07900 266 080

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

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Sinful snacks, Sharing many dishes, Introduction to new foods, Friendly conversation, Loitering over drinks

This review is long overdue. As someone who is amazingly keen on promoting Filipino food to anyone and everyone at the drop of a hat, I don’t quite know why I’ve forgotten to write up my experiences at Lakwatsa, the past year’s hottest Filipino newcomer in London.

So hot, that it even warranted a glowing article in the Evening Standard introducing ‘meriendas’ as the new tapas. It was a lovely little introduction to one aspect of Filipino cuisine, even if it got things slightly wrong: call me horrifically pedantic (it’s okay, I’m used to it), but ‘meriendas’ are not small plates like tapas; merienda is more like a catch-all term for a snack, savoury or sweet. But that is not the totality of merienda as I understand it.

It is a cultural institution, a time in the day to pause and have a bite to eat with friends and family, sharing news (and gossip), spending some quality time with people and just generally relaxing and enjoying some time off.

And it seems that Claire, the lovely lady behind Lakwatsa, has tried to encapsulate this spirit in her little cubby hole just off Portobello Road. For starters, she tells us that lakwatsa translates from Tagalog as something like ‘relax’, and back in my mum’s day it had the connotations of playing truant (don’t tell my client this is where I’ve been going).

Welcome to the merienda lounge!

Welcome to the merienda lounge!

And certainly, the vibe you get there is pretty chilled. It is, after all, a merienda lounge. Alongside one side of the wall there are swing benches, which is an AMAZING idea (some design ideas for my flat…?) that just screams chillin’. Cotchin’, even.  Throw in some rustic crate-like boxes for chairs and tables, and a menu on the wall composed of giant Scrabble tiles, and you’ve got a place that just screams, nay mumbles (as screaming is just a bit aggressive, and like, kills my buzz, dude) coolness. In a lovingly inclusive manner too, for my mum thought its twee-ness was wonderfully charming

Not the highest-scoring words

Not the highest-scoring words

And so, when I later came with friends, we spent a good amount of time just hanging out and making kwento. Other tables came and went, but we stood, or rather sat, our ground – Lakwatsa just seemed like the perfect place to just relax and watch the day go by. Were we exhausting our welcome? Please, we’d ordered one of EVERYTHING off the menu; I think that bought us a good couple of hours there.

Lakwatsa: Food coma'd

Lakwatsa: Food coma’d

And so what did we think of the food? Let’s do this properly:

Adobo rice balls: sticky rice balls with chicken adobo pieces inside – absolute genius idea. However, the execution could have done with a bit of honing. Whilst the chicken pieces were flavourful and had an even measure of sharpness and savouriness, when I went with my mum there were hardly any pieces in the balls. Also, I love the idea of dipping my adobo rice balls into more adobo sauce, but it did cause the balls to disintegrate. If you’re not keen on the idea of eating kamayan­-style, then the lack of a spoon becomes a real problem. Perhaps serve each rice ball on a big china spoon? And then you can dip it into a big bowl of sauce and then eat it all in one go.

Adobo rice balls: sticky rice filled with chicken adobo, sprinkled with crunchy garlic and served with adobo sauce

Adobo rice balls: sticky rice filled with chicken adobo, sprinkled with crunchy garlic and served with adobo sauce

Lumpia: ah, the humble Filipino spring roll served with spicy vinegar, often under-appreciated. Such a simple little dish, yet devilishly hard to make so that it smacks you in the mouth and says “I’m damn good”. I don’t think Lakwatsa’s versions (the meaty shanghai and the normal vegetarian)  quite live up to that mouth-smacking expectation, but it is definitely a solid offering that helps to provide much-needed sustenance as you wait for the other dishes.

Prawn toast: not strictly-speaking Filipino, but I’m not going to begrudge Lakwatsa when they make prawn toast that actually tastes and feels like there is prawn in there (because, well, there actually is a layer of prawns in the middle. Awesome). Surprisingly chunky and substantial, something I’d definitely have again. And a very nice touch was the garlickyness, which I guess grounds it as a ‘Filipino’ dish.

Tempura: again, not quite Filipino, but considering that many Japanese chefs retire in the Philippines and open up sushi places there, I guess you could argue for the inclusion of this dish. Lakwatsa manage to pull this off with some lightness and fluffiness, evading the usual mistake of letting it get too greasy. The prawns used were sizeable beasts, which was impressive and much appreciated.

Spicy fried squid: this was a bit of a disappointment of a dish. Yes, there were lots of yummy scrummy fried crispy bits hiding around, but the flavourings of the squid were somewhat lacklustre and… unusual. Not quite sure it worked, especially as the squid felt a bit squidgy (I always thought this was a default texture of squid, until I had some absolutely amazing squid at Ceviche and the Quality Chop House). I don’t think it was one that we were too keen on polishing off.

Pandesal: these buns are very good. Very, very good. Light, fluffy and achingly soft, this is very evocative of what you can get in the Philippines. And I’m not just saying that because it is very rare that you can get good, commercial pandesal in London. Even my mum was rather taken with these. They are served wonderfully warm (freshly-made, which probably explains the lag time in getting served), allowing for the butter to melt into every airy nook and crevice of the ripped open and steaming bread. I am told that you must try it with the ube halaya… but it is still very good with strawberry jam. I wonder if they would ever import Good Shepherd from Baguio?

Pandesal served with jam and butter

Pandesal served with jam and butter

Turon: again, it is rare to get turon on a regular basis in London, outside of the various fiestas that are scattered throughout the country and the year. But Lakwatsa does a fine job of filling the gap – their turon is freshly-made and crisp, and is stuffed with lots of banana and jackfruit without being cloyingly sweet. Luscious!

Sweet crispies are made of these...

Turon: spring rolls made with banana, jackfruit and palm sugar

Leche flan: I do remember this to be a bit creamy and rich, but feeling just a bit unsubstantial. Filipino leche flan, again, is a fairly straightforward dish to make, and in order to make it stand out it needs just a bit more ‘oomph’ about it – Lakwatsa probably need to just finetune things a bit, as it was nearly there (I can’t quite put my finger on what though… such a useful reviewer, aren’t I?). My mum did comment that she could probably make this dish better at home, and being a good mummy’s boy I’m not going to argue with her about that.

Bubble tea: both times I’ve been I’ve gone for the taro bubble tea. I presume when they say taro, they mean ube (though correct me if I’m wrong) it’s purple and tastes like ube, so I guess it must be ube (though technically ube is a purple yam, not a taro). It’s not overly sweet and has a good level of milkiness and creaminess, which is enhanced by the ube. The bubbles themselves were a bit on the softer side and perhaps a bit too gummy, but at least they erred in that direction rather than make them too hard (I’m looking at you, Manchurian Legends)!

Taro bubble tea: Don't be put off by the purple colour!

Taro bubble tea: Don’t be put off by the purple colour!

Overall, I’ve had some good times in Lakwatsa, and I look forward to my next visit there. We definitely need more Filipino places in London offering good food and a great experience, and I think Lakwatsa is doing its bit in a modern, slightly-non-traditional but fun way. But, as I always say, the more choice we have, the better it can be for everyone.

VERDICT – A good place. Lakwatsa has a fun and chilled vibe, perfect for hanging out in. It could do with a bit of polishing up in tightening the operation and perfecting some of the dishes, but they’ve got many of the other ingredients right.  I do hope that they become settled and established and really find their stride – and maybe then they’ll open up a branch on the better side of London…?

Currently listening to: Pedicab – Simulan Mo Na

Categories: Filipino | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dining with La Fayette and Washington: Balthazar comes to London

Copyright of Balthazar. Sourced from Balthazar website

Copyright of Balthazar. Sourced from Balthazar website

Cuisine: French

Address: 4-6 Russell Street, WC2B 5HZ

Area: Covent Garden

Nearest Station: Covent Garden

Tel.: 020 3301 1155

Website: http://www.balthazarlondon.com/

Pricing: High

Good For: Smart dining, Buzzing atmosphere, That je ne sais quoi feeling, Place for romance, Proper service, Extensive French wine list

It’s hard not to take notice when one of New York’s finest French restaurants decides that it’s about time to head over the Atlantic and set up shop in a prime location in Covent Garden.

It’s even harder when your friends blast frantic emails around trying, nay, demanding to get a date in the diary to go check it out. Man, their excitement is infectious…

Before our big dinner together, I was able to get a ‘sneak preview’ of sorts when my brother scheduled the first of his many birthday dinners there (see here for another one of his birthday treats). I felt a bit naughty, getting there ahead of my friends, but sometimes in this cut-throat world of ours, you just have to look out for yourself.

Not that having a birthday dinner with my brother and my darling mother was exactly the greatest act of betrayal. I think.

It was a rather pleasant evening – sat amidst grand splendour, surrounded by scrubby yet chic mirrors and bathed in golden mood lighting, we dined well that night and generally quite enjoyed ourselves. I dined on a rather agreeable lapin à la moutarde, which was succulent and creamy, whilst my brother had steak tartare and oysters (which suited his low-carb diet perfectly, despite how extravagant and sumptuous that all sounds) and my mother had the moules frites.

To finish things off, we had the raspberry soufflé with crème anglaise, which we were informed was their signature dessert. And it was delightful – once that spoon dug in through the crust, you entered a realm of saucy and smooth goodness. Never have I had a soufflé that delicate – it was a real triumph.

A towering yet delicate soufflé

A towering yet delicate soufflé

But apart from that soufflé? All serviceable and well-executed dishes – but not mind-blowing. They were just decent, nothing more. Even trying to remember back to the rabbit I had is a bit of a struggle, as nothing from that dish jumped out as being absolutely amazing, as I would expect from a place of Balthazar’s hype. Was I wrong to have such high expectations, or would I just have to wait for my second visit in order to get that brilliant Balthazar experience?

Alas, it was not quite to be – that second visit was a bit of an odd one. From getting one of my friend’s order wrong (a simple case of forgetting to take the bun out of the bunless burger) to completely wrecking another friend’s dining experience – she had to send her rack of lamb back TWICE, the first time because it was inexplicably half the size of the other rack of lamb on the table, the second time because it was still raw inside – we had a pretty rough time of it. You know when you’ve got that legitimate complaint but you’re too embarrassed to do anything about it? Yeah, that was us. Our waiter was absolutely amazing though, ever-willing to take that dish back until the kitchen got it right, no matter how much flak from the chef I’m sure he took. They were very quick to offer us her rack of lamb, as well as dessert for the entire table, on the house as a means of saying sorry – a pretty good recovery, and one that would make me doff my hat to them, if I wore hats. But still, it’s always very awkward and uncomfortable when you find yourself in that situation in the first place.

Desserts for all, on the house!

Desserts for all, on the house!

And now let’s look to the food: apart from having some of the biggest onion rings I have ever seen (which were crunchy and well-seasoned), I had the duck confit with roasted potatoes, cipollini onions, wild mushrooms and frisée salad. It was very tasty and delectable, with suitably crisp skin and tender duck meat, but again when I think back to it I am hard-pressed to consider myself wowed by it.

How big is that onion ring?

How big is that onion ring?

Duck duck duck... not goose

Duck duck duck… not goose

And let’s consider the crème brûlée – it did come with a wonderfully crisp and fluffy madeleine, but it was just short of absolutely creamy loveliness. I’m putting my neck on the line here, but I would offer up Le Relais de Venise’s version as one of the best ones I’ve had in London.

Hmm, nothing enhances dessert than a bit of Madeleine on the side

Mmm, nothing enhances dessert than a bit of Madeleine on the side

Why this obsession with being wowed? Balthazar has come in to London, on a wave of hype, encased in an absolutely gorgeous Parisian bistro setting that feels so warm and comforting. When my friend made a dinner reservation for six, the earliest date they could offer her was nearly two months away. Surely it’s reasonable to expect that the food should live up to all that?

But considering that I still rave about the meal that I had with my ex some years ago at the Bleeding Heart in Farringdon, and considering that I can still fondly remember most of the details of my experience with her at Clos Maggiore in Covent Garden, both of which are roughly similar (if just a smidgeon higher) in price to Balthazar, AND considering that I had just as much fun at the very reasonable neighbourhood bistro Le Sacré Coeur in Islington, ultimately I find that Balthazar is not the place I will be falling over myself to recommend to someone if they want an outstanding French meal.

Certainly, go for the one-time experience, the mood, the atmosphere, the very extensive and commendable wine list (we enjoyed a bottle of the Château Villa Bel-Air ’07 from Graves, Bordeaux), heck even for a taste of proper and courteous service. Balthazar can give you all of that by the bucket load. But maybe do what my mum does when she and her friends baulk at paying through the nose for an expensive-and-not-quite-worth-it-yet-atmospheric restaurant: go there just for dessert (most certainly the raspberry soufflé – that is worth the trip) or for afternoon tea.

VERDICT – An okay experience. The attempt to recreate a grand French bistro in New York and in London (I’m told they’re almost identical) is successful, and you could spend a lot of time there soaking up the bustling atmosphere and admiring les très français waiters avec leur je ne sais quoi… but if you’re looking to be wowed by the food, this is not the place for you.

Currently listening to: Cali – Que se soucie de moi

Categories: French | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cocktails and shenanigans: Fun times at London Cocktail Club, Goodge Street edition

Copyright of The London Cocktail Club. Sourced from The London Cocktail Club website

Copyright of The London Cocktail Club. Sourced from The London Cocktail Club website

Cuisine: Cocktail bar

Address: 61 Goodge Street

Area: Fitzrovia

Nearest Station: Goodge Street

Tel.: W1T 1TL

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

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Showpiece cocktails, Good cocktails, Raucous night, Being friends with the bartenders, Hip hop dancing, Buzzing atmosphere

Being friends with some borderline alcoholics (ha! Joke lang – they’re really full-blown alkies and on their way to cirrhosis) does have its perks sometimes, such as being introduced to fun and exciting places like the London Cocktail Club on Goodge Street.

I can’t quite remember the first time I went there, but I do recall being quite intrigued as I’d heard positive things about the place – interesting cocktails, electric vibe, fun and mixed crowd etc. What I didn’t quite appreciate at the time is how off-the-walls crazy it can get: the last time I was there, the place erupted as it was the birthday of one of the bartender’s best friends – people were dancing on the bar, the guys behind the bar were doing shots, cocktails (and the bar) were being set aflame… the good times were in full flow.

Everyday they're shuffling - it's a mighty expensive habit, mind. Photo courtesy of a friend!

Everyday they’re shuffling. Photo courtesy of a friend!

So what is it that seems to create a fun atmosphere at the LCC? (The first thing I would say is that if I were to pack in my day job and become a bartender (or do they call them mixologists there?), I would like to work at LCC. Those guys look like they are having an absolutely smashing time, and it does make me feel just a wee bit jealous.

Why the jealousy? Well, change management consultancy most certainly does not involve any of the following: making wicked looking cocktails, looking awesome whilst doing so, partying at the same time and generally being the most popular people in the room. I mean, I could try it out tomorrow at work, but I’m not so sure the client would fully appreciate it (philistines).

What else makes LCC such an enticing concept? When my friends and I want to throw some wicked shapes on the dance floor that put everyone else to shame, I generally like to do it to some heavy hip hop stylings, and the guys at LCC seem to agree that playing Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z’s ’99 Problems’, early Snoop Dogg  and other hip hop classics is a guaranteed way of setting an atmosphere conducive for dancing pleasantries.

But let’s not forget the reason that LCC exists: it’s a cocktail bar and it makes cocktails. Funky cocktails. Intriguing cocktails. Flavourful cocktails. Smooth cocktails. A whole gamut of cocktails. And generally they’re quite good, thankfully. Otherwise, calling themselves the London Cocktail Club would be a bit of an unfortunate misnomer.

I’ve been trying to work my way through their gin section, as I think gin is what classy gentlemen drink (note: I do actually quite like gin), and because, as I’ve just found out whilst writing this review, the Goodge Street branch of the LCC is described as their Punk Gin Palace. So far, I have not had any misses and have quite enjoyed the crisp and refreshing tastes of their gin creations, such as their take on the Pegu Club. Alas, I’ve always been having far too much fun to take any snaps of the drinks, except for the lonely one below. That is a cocktail in that golden syrup can. And yes, there was golden syrup in there. It was a spiffingly scrummy dessert cocktail. Mmm.

Sweet nothings

Sweet nothings

Whilst I would wholeheartedly encourage you find that non-descript stairwell on Goodge Street leading down to this basement gem (and ask you to take me with you), I would have to say that there are a few caveats that you must accept if you want to really enjoy things:

  1. It can get quite busy in there and it is quite narrow and cosy, so this is not the place for people who fear personal space invaders
  2.  You can end up waiting some time at the bar trying to order your drinks – it helps to either be a friend of the bar or a very pretty girl who’s good at getting attention (thankfully my friends are both – I love you guys!!). I always tend to order two drinks at a time, but suggest that everyone else doesn’t so that I don’t have to wait so long the next time around
  3. If you don’t like bars where they pump out some loud tunes, this place is not for you
  4. The place closes at 12am (say what????)

So, bearing all that in mind – when are we next having a drink there?

VERDICT – A good place. I very much like the atmosphere, the crowd, the drinks and the music, and every time I’ve been we’ve always had a smashing time. And with a drinks menu that extensive, I’m sure that there will always be reason for us to keep on going back for more and more.

Currently listening to: Reuben – Parties Break Hearts

Categories: Cocktail Bar | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments