Posts Tagged With: Lunchtime fix

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

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

Parklife, Bermondsey-style: Caphe House

Copyright of Caphe House. Sourced from Caphe House website

Copyright of Caphe House. Sourced from Caphe House website

Cuisine: Vietnamese

Address: 114 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3TX

Area: Bermondsey Street

Nearest Station: London Bridge

Tel. No.: 020 7403 3574

Website: http://www.caphehouse.com/

Pricing: Cheap

Good For: Lunchtime fix, Cheap and cheerful, Perfect for a summer’s days, Casual dining, Friendly conversation, Takeaway

I love to fill my lunch hour with exploratory walks, which is one of the perks of working in such a diverse city such as London. Whilst working at City Hall, on a whim, I decided to stroll down Bermondsey Street, completely unaware of what I would find down there. It was a warm summer’s day, and I desired to go sit in the park some way down the street. But what to do whilst there? Oh, what’s this? A Vietnamese café conveniently situated right across the road from it?? Happy days!

It’d been some time since I’d had Vietnamese, so I hastily barged my way in and scanned the menu hungrily: banh mi!

By now, I’m sure you must be very aware that banh mi are one of the supposed ‘trend’ foods of recent years (I say this because of the number of new places that have opened up, and the fact that I saw EAT, EAT of all places, selling their own version of banh mi…). But for the uninitiated, banh mi are essentially Vietnamese-style baguette sandwiches, a wonderful culinary marriage of French baguette and Vietnamese ingredients that originated from France’s colonial rule in Indochina.

I dare not offer myself as an expert on banh mi, but I would say that Caphe House has given me some of the best banh mi that I have had in London: excellent portions of crusty bread filled with generous amounts of fillings, with a pork pâté that is a bit stronger than the other banh mi establishments, which adds to the pleasing complexity of the sandwich. I may perhaps be romanticising them and tingeing them with the fond nostalgia that surrounds my City Hall days (and perhaps linking my memories with the rather cute girl who worked there…), but hey that’s still a valid part of the dining experience, isn’t it?

I’ve also had their rice dishes, on those days when I’ve been feeling rather peckish. These are assembled from a whopping great big rice cooker and a salad bar. You do wonder about the freshness of the salad ingredients that top the rice, but when the grilled pork is as wonderfully smokey as Caphe House’s, you don’t complain! I would say that for a lunchtime offering, the rice dishes are a bit overwhelming in terms of size, but at the same time you are probably getting good value for money.

But one should not worry about the risk of a food coma session wrecking an afternoon of work! I always finished my lunches off with a cup of strong Viet caphe. Coming as it does in a sizeable cup, you are certain that you are getting a full wallop of caffeine. And just imagine all that condensed milk lurking in there as well – enough to give anyone diabetes, no doubt.

It’s been some time since I’ve been there for lunch; many other Viet banh mi places have courted my favour, and many of them I would highly recommend too – but for some reason, I am always drawn back by my memories to Caphe House…

VERDICT – Highly recommended. A firm favourite of mine on Bermondsey Street, I got to know them and they got to know me. I still maintain that it dishes up some of the best banh mi I’ve had so far in London. I only wish that I still worked in the area… I hope that they don’t miss me too much.

Currently listening to: Axewound – Cold

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

Two Stones, One Dog: The Dogfather at The Sun & 13 Cantons

Copyright of The Dogfather. Sourced from The Dogfather website

Cuisine: Hot Dogs

Address: Usually North Cross Road Market; two-week residency at The Sun & 13 Cantons, 21 Great Pulteney Street, W1F 9NG (NOW FINISHED)

Area: The Sun & 13 Cantons – Soho

Nearest Station: The Sun & 13 Cantons – Oxford Circus/Piccadilly Circus

Tel.: The Sun & 13 Cantons – 020 7734 0934

Website: http://www.dogfatherdiner.com/, http://www.sunand13cantons.co.uk/

Pricing: The Dogfather – Medium, The Sun & 13 Cantons – Cheap-Medium

Good For: The Dogfather – Lunchtime fix, Filling meal, Interesting toppings. The Sun & 13 Cantons – Loitering over drinks, Friendly conversation, Victorian setting, Natter with mates, After-work drinks

Some time ago, in the not-so distant past but still beyond the mists of memory, I’d heard tales of a brilliant hot dog dispenser going by the name of the Dogfather, who based himself in the relatively unknown – to me, at least – market of North Cross Road. Not being a Londoner at the time, the thought of making a trip into deepest and darkest South London was a bit daunting for me. Now, as a South Londoner, the thought of making a trip into deepest and darkest Dulwich is still just a bit daunting for me. So, when the Egg Boss tweeted that his good friend, the Dogfather, was just about to set up shop for a couple weeks’ residency in November 2012 at the curiously-named Sun and 13 Cantons pub in not so deep and not so dark Soho, I realised that this was my shot for glory.

It was therefore very fortunate that I’d chosen the first Tuesday of the Dogfather’s pop-up to be suit-shopping day on Oxford Street with mia madre. Keen to get more freebies out of her (what a son I am), I suggested that maybe we re-visit her childhood memories of eating copious amounts of hot dogs back in the Philippines by, well, eating hot dogs in Soho.

Now I’d never heard of the Sun and 13 Cantons pub before, but I think that they now have a new customer – thanks going to the Dogfather for getting me through the door. It feels like a typical London inner-city pub, what with the big windows, wooden flooring and high tables and chairs in the main bar. But it’s the addition of a ‘dining area’ of sorts at the back with lots of mirrors and marble-top tables makes this place stand out a bit in my mind. Not only does lots of places to sit = good place for a natter with friends, but I like the Victorian vibe this room really gives off. Should I mention the decent range of beers and the cute bar girls who are happy to chat? Think before I speak? Oh, too late…

The haute dogs on offer

Mia madre chose the Dogfather (chorizo clices [sic], grilled onions, melted mozzarella, roasted red pepper marinara, chopped jalapenos, grated parmesan and a beef dog). I wanted the Slum Dog of which I’d read much about on the internet, but as it was not available that day I settled for the Snoop Dog (streaky bacon, BBQ sauce, cheddar slices, grilled onion, cream corn mayo, green onions, chopped jalapenos and a beef dog). It took some time for them to arrive, even though we were one of the few dining groups there. And when the dogs did arrive, the accompanying fries were just warm and unremarkable. I attributed these timing issues to the teething problems of settling into a new residency i.e. still getting used to a different kitchen/staff etc. (things that a residency is valuable for teaching) but we were still a bit disappointed.

Mr Snoop Dog and his friends the Fries Gang

Now as for the dogs… curiously enough, mia madre declined to offer me a bite of hers, which suggests that she enjoyed it enough to not want to share (more on that later). I similarly enjoyed my Snoop Dog, as all the flavours melded together pretty well, demonstrating excellent teamwork and maximising of strengths. However, the melding also helped to hide the fact that some of the individual components were not quite there in terms of quality: the streaky bacon was the right level of saltiness but not crispiness (my ex was adamant that the only reason streaky bacon existed was to be fried into crispy crunchiness); the cream corn mayo was, in my opinion, rather lightly applied, and by itself did not distinguish itself from any other mayo I’ve had; the bun did the job adequately if not spectacularly; but most importantly, the beef dog in isolation was… okay.

Snoop Dog lookin’ right at ya

By no means was it bad (I can think of many, many worse examples… don’t make me go there), but in the face of competition from the likes of the Big Apple Hot Dogs, I just felt that the beef dog just didn’t really hold its ground. There was just something lacking, a particular spark that would motivate me to make the trek to the Dogfather’s spiritual home in North Cross Road. I would happily have the Snoop Dog again if it were given to me on a plate/camping tray/plank of wood, but if you just handed me the beef dog by itself… oh, I’d still eat it.

Mia madre, after some reflection, came to a similar conclusion, and as an out-of-towner she is even less likely to want to make it over to Dulwich. Which is a bit of a shame, as I wouldn’t mind having her along as a companion for when I try to hunt down the renowned Slum Dog, and see if the Dogfather is really in his prime on his home turf.

VERDICT for The Sun & 13 Cantons – A good place.

VERDICT for The Dogfather – An okay experience.

I enjoyed my lunchtime in the Sun and 13 Cantons, and if I am in the area again I will readily go back there for a drink. As for my first experience of the Dogfather? I did enjoy it, but the hype I’d read about it had given me extremely high expectations which were unfortunately not met; whilst some of it may be down to the teething problems of setting up a residency (but hey, these things are not just great business opportunities but also valuable learning experiences), at the same time the individual ingredients in the Snoop Dog did not wow me. Still, the man has built up enough of a positive reputation, so he must be doing something right. Maybe one of these weekends, when I have the time, I will get down to North Cross Road to dine on the Dogfather’s own terms, on his own turf.

Currently listening to: La Ruda Salska – Du rififi chez les branques

Categories: Hot Dogs, Pub | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cool cats in the City: Café Kaati

Copyright of Café Kaati. Sourced from Café Kaati website

Cuisine: Indian

Address: 123 Houndsditch, EC3A 7BU

Area: Aldgate

Nearest Station: Aldgate/Liverpool Street

Tel.: 020 7283 0444

Website: http://www.cafekaati.com/

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Lunchtime fix, Filling meal, Takeaway, Spice

I was actually on the way back from having bought food when I spotted Café Kaati by complete chance – a not uncommon experience, as when beset by hunger and anticipation my greedy stomach causes my food radar to go into overdrive. Is it any surprise that I have a weakness for impulse-buying snacks?

Anyway… I was on my way back from buying the first of many lomitos from Moo Grill and decided to walk a slightly different route back than the one I had taken to get there. This is one of the things I like about working in the City, the fact that it is seemingly built for the curious stroller – there are so many things to discover. So, having had my curiosity piqued by Café Kaati, I was determined to make it the destination of my next lunchtime meal.

Although there is some seating and some tables, this is not a sit-down restaurant. The low couches and just-as-low tables which dominate the centre of the room look like they’d be good for lounging and munching, but in my opinion they seem to be designed just uncomfortable enough to dispel any delusions of sit-down grandeur. No, this place is set up for the quick lunchtime/takeaway fix. Although it is heavy with the City crowd at lunch, service is quick enough to ensure a relatively short wait and high turnover; the guys here know what they’re doing, and I think they even started to recognise me and predict my regular. A nice touch, eh?

As suggested by the name, the kaati roll is their speciality, though they do have other main dishes like thalis. I’d read online that the Chicken 65 is their best option and boy, it is good. Tasty chunks of chicken with a chilli hit, all coated in flour, deep-fried and served with standard toppings of lettuce, carrots, bell peppers and cucumbers. How can that not sound good? Well, when you wrap it a fried, doughy and chewy paratha that is coated on the inside with egg and cheese, THAT’S how you make it sound better.

Chickn 65 kaati roll aka impending food coma at work

One note though – I would recommend the egg and cheese additions only for those with extreme hunger; that afternoon I was afflicted by a food coma, and I learnt my lesson to avoid them if I wanted to be capable of work afterwards. As for their other kaati roll options… I was less than impressed with the Tandoori Chicken, which seemed to be less flavourful when compared to the Chicken 65. But that matters little when it is the Chicken 65 that you keep on craving.

And for lunch, that’s all you need really. That fateful first day I did try their gulab jamun, and I think that it contributed significantly to that afternoon’s food coma. I love this dessert: heavy deep-fried doughy pieces that are saturated in rosewater syrup. It is sinful, it is rich, it is luxurious – and Café Kaati’s example is, in my opinion, a decent one. But I must labour the point – only have some with your kaati roll if you are hungry and capable. Or maybe have the afternoon off.

VERDICT – Highly recommended. If you are in the City and after something different from the usual sandwich, wrap and salad chains for lunch, Café Kaati should be high up on your hit-list. It is distinct, it is tasty, it is filling and best of all it is of a comparable price to some of these chains. Don’t settle for the usual – head over to Café Kaati now.

Currently listening to: AFI – Paper Airplanes (makeshift wings)

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

Lunch for the big boys: the mighty Moo Grill lomito

Copyright of Moo Grill. Sourced from Moo Grill website

Cuisine: Argentinean

Address: 4 Cobb Street, E1 7LB

Area: Spitalfields

Nearest Station: Aldgate/Liverpool Street

Tel.: 020 7377 9276

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

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Casual dining, Friendly conversation, Filling meal, Lunchtime fix, Carnivorous eating

Having been pointed in the way of youngandfoodish.com’s Top Ten Burger List (a recommended pathway to glorious unhealthiness… yes yes), I soon discovered that they also had a Top Ten Sandwich List. Whilst I could snobbishly say that I’d already heard of four of the top ten, I must confess that the description of the lomito at Moo Grill as “the kind of steak sandwich that obsessions are made of” made me rather excited. And since it was within walking distance of work, I guess that it had to be done.

Well, earlier this year work was… very quiet, to put it mildly. I had the time and luxury to roam widely and freely during my lengthy lunch hours, and so it was not long between hearing of Moo Grill and my actually going there.

Cobb Street, one of the small lanes between Bishopsgate and Commercial Street, is probably the last place you’d expect to find an Argentinean steak restaurant. The front gives nothing away, but as soon as you enter you know you’ve hit somewhere special. Whilst the brickwork and wood exude a bit of a rustic feel, any visual effect is topped by the bellows of “Amigo!” that reverberate around the small and narrow establishment. As I ordered takeaway from the counter at the back of the restaurant, I was told with much pride that they had WiFi that I could use while I waited. I could sense that this was the start of a great new relationship.

I’ve since been there several times now for takeaway (and one sit down) and have had three different lomitos, their signature ‘gourmet’ sandwiches – Potro, Pollo Loco and Milanga. If I were pressed to choose, I would go for the Potro, as it comes with tasty ham and  egg – just more protein, really. But then again, the crispy, breaded deep-fried steak in the Milanga lathered with American mustard is also a sure-fire winner. Ah, the tyranny of choice…

What my mighty Potro lomito would have looked like, if I had photographed it.
Copyright of Moo Grill. Sourced from Moo Grill website

But why choose, huh? All of them are packed in the sort of warm, crusty ciabatta that you would write home about if you found it in a tiny no-name bakery in an Italian village no one has heard of, and when I say packed I mean PACKED. These sandwiches are hustling and bustling with ingredients and full of flavour. Each bite brings something new to the table in terms of texture and flavour. The steak (and in the case of Pollo Loco, the chicken) is beautifully tender, perfect for a sandwich. If I had one criticism of the lomito concept, I would say that perhaps it had too many ingredients… but that’s like a ‘weakness’ you would offer up in a job interview i.e. not particularly a weakness at all.

I wish I had taken photos to commemorate my experiences, but colleagues do tend to look oddly (and judgingly) at you when you photograph food at your desk…

That first visit of mine, the man-with-the-plan behind the counter cheerily informed me that he was peddling alfajorcitos for dessert, home-made to an old family recipe. Whether that’s his spiel or not, these small alfajores live up to expectations. The shortbread is the right amount of crumbly, and offsets the sweetness of the dulce de leche nicely. If the lomitos were not so big, I’d have these for dessert every time. And then I’d be fat.

VERDICT – Highly recommended. Their lomitos will clobber you for six. Their smiles and cries of “Amigo” will heal your lomito-inflicted wounds, and encourage you to go back. Moo Grill puts the best of the nearby sandwich chains to almighty shame. There is no excuse not to at least try them once. Seriously, they have things sorted – a unique offering for the area, a quality product, and a sincere warmth and friendliness. If only I worked a bit closer now…

Categories: Argentinian | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments