Posts Tagged With: Leicester Square

C’est une tête-à-tête: French one-upmanship at The Green Man & French Horn

Copyright of The Green Man & French Horn. Sourced from The Green Man & French Horn website

Copyright of The Green Man & French Horn. Sourced from The Green Man & French Horn website

Cuisine: French

Address: 54 St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4EA

Area: Covent Garden

Nearest Station: Leicester Square

Tel.: 020 7836 2645

Website: http://www.greenmanfrenchhorn.co

Pricing: Medium-High

Good For: Smart-casual dining, Wine selection, Friendly conversation, Seasonal menu, Place for romance

And so the birthday celebrations continued… this time, with my mum doing me the honours. Being a true mummy’s boy, I wanted to show her that my birthday (and by extension, me) would be so much better than that other son of hers – as he had opted for a little bit of French bistro stylings at Balthazar, I thought that I would go one better and choose The Green Man & French Horn.

However, as with my brother’s birthday dinner, I was held up in getting out of work and turned up late. Yes, I turned up late for my own birthday dinner (shocking, I know). This did concern me a bit, as the online booking I had made did specify that we would only have the table for two hours… this did not prove to be a problem, as not only were we finished in just about that time, but we were not really hurried out the door (who was going to sit at our table anyway? The place was half-empty by the time we were done).

We were in for a ride down the Loire Valley for this meal, as that’s what The Green Man & French Horn is all about. For someone who’s a bit of a (ignorant) Bordeaux vinophile, this meant that I was completely stumped when it came to sniffing out a good wine from the extremely extensive wine list. But the chatty and knowledgeable Kiwi (?) waitress was on hand to offer her expertise; based on my instructions that I wanted a red wine that was a) not too tannic, b) was medium-bodied c) was not fruity and d) was easy to drink, she recommended the 2011 Le Cousin ‘Le Grolle’ from Domaine Cousin-Leduc, Olivier Cousin, which fit most of my criteria perfectly: it was indeed an easy-drinking, medium-bodied red, but it still had a nice complexity to it that finished with light pepperiness. I may have very visibly showed my delighted surprise when I tried it out, maybe even a bit too much, for I think she had a bit of a giggle to herself. Ah well, I just have that effect on women, I guess (*cough*)…

So, what is a culinary trip along the Loire like? To start with, I had fried sand eels, lemon, garlic and parsley, primarily because I’d never had sand eel before. They taste very similar to whitebait, and I’d presume that to the unknowing eye, it probably does look like whitebait. Crunchy yet soft on the inside, the garlic was subtle whilst the lemon added real zing.

Sand eels. Fried. Sand not included

Sand eels. Fried. Sand not included

Moving away from the estuary of the Loire and up into the wooded valleys, I moved on to civet of rabbit with girolles and fresh pasta. What I got was a wonderfully dark hunk of rabbit meat – almost black in the dim light. Rich and strong flavours of red wine, onion and aniseed (probably too much aniseed for my liking) came out of the succulent meat. This was all nicely countered by the plainness of the tagliatelle-like pasta, which also added some welcoming al dente textures to the whole affair. The girolles were rather pleasing too, let’s not forget them!

The dark lighting adds to the darkness of the meat

The dark lighting adds to the darkness of the meat

I managed to have a try of my brother’s Bourbonnais lamb belly with coco beans and girolles. The meat was tender but a bit softly-flavoured for lamb, and the coco bean and tomato stew was very hearty and warming. I’d imagine that this would be a great winter dish.

Lamb from the Bourbonnais. Beans from the coco

Lamb from the Bourbonnais. Beans from the coco

These were all traditional, simple dishes coming with good, mostly strong flavours. It was therefore rather suitable for us to follow up with desserts that were a bit lighter. I’d already made my mind up as to which three desserts we should get, but we had to go through the formality of deciding who would order which – our kindly waitress had to return a few times before we felt ready to tell her our deepest desires.

The crémet Nantais with figs was delightful – light fromage blanc mixed with whipped cream and then paired with fresh figs in a sweet sauce to produce a dish of contrasts. Next up was the white chocolate mousse with coffee and almonds – sweet but not overly so and smooth and creamy to boot. Completing the trio was baked peach, fromage blanc and sablé biscuit, which was I quite enjoyed, as the fromage blanc offered a slight tart creaminess against the caramelised pear.

Green Man & French Horn dessert

A trio of desserts. not all for myself, obviously (duh)

The Loire region is a (big) part of France I’m not too familiar with, so I appreciated the little introductory session we had at The Green Man & French Horn. Excellent wine, hearty food, friendly and helpful service; what a birthday dinner. It was definitely better than my brother’s (ha!).

VERDICT – A good place. There was a nice, grounded and personable atmosphere at The Green Man & French Horn that made this a rather welcoming place. Throw in a meal well-enjoyed and a wine recommendation much-appreciated, and I think you have the makings of a decent French bistro experience, right in the heart of London.

Currently listening to: Engel – Blood of Saints

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Categories: French | 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

Find the Jade Door: Chilling out in Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour

Copyright of Opium. Sourced from Opium website

Copyright of Opium. Sourced from Opium website

Cuisine: Cocktail bar

Address: 15-16 Gerrard Street

Area: Chinatown

Nearest Station: Leicester Square/Piccadilly Circus

Tel.: 020 7734 7276

Website: http://opiumchinatown.com/

Pricing: High

Good For: Showpiece cocktails, Good cocktails, Friendly conversation, Place for romance, Chic night

“Am having a drink in an opium den”. Not the sort of thing that my mum was expecting when she texted me, asking me to call her regarding Easter Sunday plans the next day… but, well, it was the truth. Sort of.

My friend and I were feeling on a bit of a roll after having dined out in Flat Iron: the night was still young, there was still a lot to catch up on, we weren’t drunk yet… we needed a suitable venue in which to continue the evening’s pleasantries.

And so, upon her recommendation, we decided to check out Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour. It’s located up some stairs behind a plain jade door on Gerrard Street, right in the middle of Chinatown, so I’m sure the various tourists milling around were somewhat bemused to see us meet-and-greeted by the imposing bouncer, and then let into a secret and exclusive world of Chinoiserie and Orientalism.

As befitting a den of iniquity (the dim sum’s influence, obviously), the lighting was dim and moody, but the décor was cleanly presented and well-executed, giving a real ambience of fun Eastern ‘exotica’.

Sourced from Opium website. I felt too shy to take photos when I was there *blushes*

Sourced from Opium website. I felt too shy to take photos when I was there *blushes*

We had some seats by the bar in the Apothecary, facing the mystery bottles lined up along the back, distinguished by the Chinese numbers adorning them. Sitting at the bar afforded us great views of the show that the mixologists were putting on. So, what did we have to drink?

She had the Year of the Snakebite & Blackcurrant, which was rather sweet, masking the potency of the alcohol. With the lemon sorbet whisked in, there was a lovely smoothness to it. Alongside that, I had the Flying Firecracker, a refreshing and slightly tart concoction that came with complimentary gunpowder balls. “What do we do with these?” I asked, wondering whether we really were allowed to throw them around with reckless abandon. The barman proceeded to show us that, yes, we could just lob these around – his fellow barstaff, the waitresses, even some other customers, were victims to the little pop these balls made. Now if only it were a free flow service…

A witch's cauldron of cocktail goodness. Sourced from www.whattickles.com

A witch’s cauldron of cocktail goodness. No way my camera phone will take as good a photo as this. Sourced from whattickles.com

Later on, after having watched several being made and being extremely intrigued, I succumbed to the pressure and had the Opium Cocktail No. 2 as, well, my number two cocktail. This came in a little, smoking cauldron and was accompanied by a tiny bottle of ginseng which would act as a chaser. It was a fascinating sight to see it placed before me, and my friend and I ooh-ed and ahh-ed as we explored every aspect of it. Alas, they did not have guava jam at the time, but I was assured that the next time I came here, I could use it to offset the bitterness of the ginseng chaser.

Overall, it was good evening of convivial conversation and fun drinks in a rather relaxed and cool setting. We even got to try the crab and samphire dumplings (very tasty, slightly unusual because of the samphire, but you can get cheaper and just as good elsewhere), just so that we could say that we came to Opium and did BOTH cocktails and dim sum.

Cocktails and dim sum… it is a winning combination.

VERDICT – Highly recommended. As I was discussing with someone else recently, it is a bit hard to find a relaxed yet cool place where you can go for really good and interesting cocktails and not be drowned out by the loud music or other groups. The staff here were all really chatty and quite clearly enjoyed what they were doing. When you’ve got all those ingredients thrown into the mix, how can you not enjoy yourself?

Currently listening to: Coheed and Cambria – Key Entity Extraction III: Vic the Butcher

Categories: Chinese, Cocktail Bar | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dark Ages weren’t so dark after all: Chicken Kiev and other comfort foods at West End Kitchen

Copyright of West End Kitchen. Sourced from West End Kitchen website

Copyright of West End Kitchen. Sourced from West End Kitchen website

Cuisine: European

Address: 5 Panton Street, SW1Y 4DL

Area: Leicester Square

Nearest Stations: Piccadilly Circus/Leicester Square

Tel. No.: 020 7839 4241

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

Good For: Filling meal, Cheap and cheerful, Quiet meal

It is interesting to see that Chicken Kiev is making a ‘come back’ in London, according to the Evening Standard. Firstly, I am glad: Chicken Kiev was always a favourite school supper of mine, as it combines so many good things – breading, juicy chicken breast, butter and garlic – even if the execution back then was not always top-notch. Secondly, I am somewhat bemused that this dish has supposedly been absent from the West End since the 1970s. Granted, ‘sophisticated’ (as the Evening Standard names them) restaurants may not have been serving it, but I’ve been getting my Chicken Kiev fix for some time now in the West End. Gosh darn it am I being smug.

Welcome to the West End Kitchen on Panton Street.

It’s a small diner tucked away between Leicester Square and Haymarket, and has apparently been serving well-priced comfort food for many, many years now. I stumbled across it with my ex a few years back, when we’d just been to see a film; wet from the rain and desperately hungry, we couldn’t muster the effort to trudge to Chinatown and so we ducked into one of the few open doorways on Panton Street in order to dry off a bit and see what the menu had on offer.

That first time, I had the rather butch Pique a lo Macho (fried beef, chips, egg, sausage, onion, olives, pepper and cheese) that turned out to be a veritable macho mountain of hot and fulfilling food that would have overwhelmed lesser men. That and the friendly and irreverent service was enough to charm us back. Any time we were hungry and in the area, we would pop into the West End Kitchen.

Chicken Kiev at the West End Kitchen - yummy yummy I've got love in my tummy

Chicken Kiev at the West End Kitchen – yummy yummy I’ve got love in my tummy

And it is through these repeated visits that I came to appreciate their Chicken Kiev. It is a well-made dish: succulent chicken breast wrapped around creamy and rich garlic butter and encased in wonderfully crispy breading. It comes with standard boiled vegetables and new potatoes on a bed of adequately done rice, all of which are nothing that special when compared to the spinach and chicken jus of Primo, but then again you can have a very decent meal here for under £10.

And when you’re hungry and in need of some comfort food, do you really need anything more?

VERDICT – A good place. It’s a nice go-to place for a decent feed and you will always find a welcoming booth. And, now that Chicken Kievs are chic again, why wouldn’t want to be flocking down to the West End Kitchen?

Currently listening to: Horrorpops – Freaks in Uniform

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

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