Posts Tagged With: Introduction to new foods

On food culture and the ‘authenticity’ of food

internet

Whilst browsing Facebook during lunchbreak, I happened across an article that had been shared by some fellow Filipino foodies. It was a short promotional article in Afar Magazine, detailing Aashi Vel of Traveling Spoon’s trip to the Philippines and the subsequent expansion of her business there. In essence, Traveling Spoon offers unique culinary experiences in a select number of countries, whereby travellers can connect with home cooks and eat in their homes.

“Discover an authentic culinary experience with the best home cooks around the world”

Sounds pretty cool, no? So it was interesting to see what she thought of the Philippines’ culinary scene.

Alas, it becomes quite clear from the article that she very nearly did not have a good time of it at all. She was only rescued by two of the hosts now signed up to Traveling Spoon, who cooked for and fed her their family dishes. Because of this experience, she came to the conclusion that, to quote the article, “to get a real taste of Filipino food that truly reflects its history, you have to step inside a local home… [because] It’s still difficult to find restaurants that serve ‘authentic’ Filipino cuisine in the Philippines”. This, in her mind, makes Traveling Spoon’s mission in the Philippines crucial, because they are all about offering people ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ food experiences.

As someone who’s always enjoyed his food journeys around the Philippines and is really excited by the restaurant scene in Manila, this bold statement comes across as a bit iffy. I felt a bit puzzled about the article and left it alone, but the more I thought about it, the more my puzzlement turned into a mild sense of indignation. How can someone, an outsider, who seems to be still growing in their understanding of Filipino food, cast such generalised and damning judgement upon the entire restaurant scene of a nation of 7,107 islands and 100 million people?

And so I started writing my thoughts down, and compiling them into an essay of sorts. Want to have a read? Just click on the link!

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

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

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

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