Posts Tagged With: Sinful snacks

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

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

Oom-pah-pah on Villiers Street: Meat me at Herman ze German

Copyright of Herman ze German. Sourced from Herman ze German website

Copyright of Herman ze German. Sourced from Herman ze German website

Cuisine: German

Address: 19 Villiers Street, WC2N 6NE

Area: Charing Cross

Nearest Station: Embankment/Charing Cross

Tel.: N/A

Website: http://www.herman-ze-german.co.uk/

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Casual dining, Takeaway, Filling meal, Sinful snacks

It’s been a month since I was in Munich, on a holiday between projects. Whenever I told anyone of my plans, I was asked whether I was going to gorge myself on sausages and beer, and I would reply enthusiastically in the affirmative (if I said I was going to a party to gorge on sausage and beer, that would sound horrifically dodgy – ooh err).

Now it may surprise many people, but I only had sausage twice those four days in Munich – weiβwurst for a rather sluggish and hungover breakfast on the Sunday, and a currywurst snack during a daytrip to Schloss Neuschwanstein. Rather, I came to appreciate the other regional dishes, such as roast pork knuckle, obazda, leberkäse and, rather surprisingly, white asparagus.

And, instead of plying myself silly with litre steins of Münchener weiβbier (I did have some, mind), I instead discovered a strong liking for the sweet, cool, refreshing taste of the radler and the russ’n, aka the shandy.

But that’s all for another day. Now that I am back in London, I find myself dreaming of big, fat, juicy German sausages (oooh errr), and bitterly regretting that the drei paar of weiβwurst I brought home with me lasted only three days. And so, where would I go to, in order to fix this absolutely wurst problem?

Enter Herman ze German from stage right. Anyone wandering along that crammed stretch of Villiers Street between Embankment and Charing Cross stations is bound to have seen this place, and thought to themselves, “Hmm, I hope that Herman has good sausage” (ooooh errrr). The fact that it is almost opposite one of the exits from Charing Cross has meant that I, and I’m sure countless others, have popped across the road to grab a meaty snack as we waited for our trains home.

And now, actually having been to Germany, I can come to Herman for my fix of all things German: the place screams over-the-top Germaness, specifically of the Bavarian Alpine lodge variety. However, as my Bavarian friend did point out, our perception of Germaness is… rather narrow-minded, let’s just say. But then again, there are loads of pictures of her wearing a dirndl, eating bratwurst and drinking weiβbier out of litre steins, so why should Herman disappoint us by not offering these?

Okay, there is a distinct lack of girls in dirndls and guys in lederhosen, and I don’t think they sell beer any more (*sob*), but there is wurst.

That eventful first currywurst

That eventful first currywurst

They will leave you feeling satisfied and all filled up. They are well-cooked, juicy and have great flavours. The old classic bratwurst is a favourite. But the first time I was here, I had the currywurst. They overloaded mine with spice, which made it difficult to finish off without a cooling beer. The sauce is perhaps too ketchup-y for my liking, but it has a strong and distinct tang about it. I like the fried onions that you can request to sprinkle on your sausage, and the sauerkraut is up to the job too – some crunch and texture, and not packing too much sourness.

However, I would recommend going for something a little different from the average wurst – the leberkäse. This translates, literally, as liver cheese. Before you vomit at the thought of that, hear me out. It is, roughly-speaking, a sausage meatloaf, and so has nearly (but not quite) the same taste and texture as the bratwurst on offer. Herman’s example is a pretty good one, and they have been quite generous with their portions, cutting their under-used loaf into hefty slices for your enjoyment and smothering them in punchy mustard.

As for the all-important fries that accompany this cornucopia of sausage meat – they are thin, crisp, and delightful when dipped in either curry sauce or mayonnaise.

So, the next time you find yourself at a loose end whilst waiting for your train in Charing Cross, why not pop out, cross the road, and enter a little haven of Germany?

VERDICT – A good place. Portions are hearty, prices are good, flavours are tasty; it is simple food done well. Sometimes, all you need in life is meat, bread and potatoes. ‘Nuff said.

Currently listening to: Circa Survive – Dyed in the Wool

Categories: German | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A quiet corner in bustling Deptford: Coffee and treats at Deli X

Copyright of Deli X. Sourced from Deli X website

Copyright of Deli X. Sourced from Deli X website

Cuisine: European

Address: 156 Deptford High Street, SE8 3PQ

Area: Deptford

Nearest Station: Deptford/Deptford Bridge

Tel. No.: 020 8691 3377

Website: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Deli-X/249955361716103

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Loitering over drinks, Sinful snacks, Community feeling

Having only just become a ‘proper’ Londoner (i.e. not just a weekday commuter/weekend playboy) within the last year, I thought it best to set down some roots and really explore the multifarious wonders of Southeast London.

And so, one sunny Saturday afternoon in April 2012, I decided to explore Deptford Market. I spent a fruitful hour exploring amongst the stalls, the fishmongers, the butchers, the greengrocers, the Chinese and Vietnamese stores, the flea market on Douglas Way, the Albany Theatre… and came away with a bag full of veggies, some Chinese ingredients, a nicely-weighted cleaver, a cafetière and an idea that yes, Deptford Market was actually a pretty cool thing to have around.

Well, I decided to head further north along Deptford High Street to explore what else lay beyond the railway bridge. I chanced upon the cheerfully-coloured Deli X and popped in, attracted by the deli displays of fresh fruit and vegetables and tempting cheeses.

The deli itself is small but well-laid out, and is rich with an eclectic theme. Having noticed that I looked a bit lost amongst the vegetables, one of the owners came over and offered to help. Friendly as ever, she managed to steer my attention to the coffees and cakes they had on offer. Clever girl she was, doing that. It wasn’t long before I relented to a Portuguese egg tart and a coffee, after which she sent me over to the dining area, a charming place filled with couches, mismatched tables and chairs.

Carrying on with the eclectic and mismatched theme, my coffee arrived in a bowl that perched precariously on an under-sized saucer. Funky, but risky – the girls here must have the balancing and hand skills of, I don’t know, a circus juggler.

I’m not a coffee aficionado, but I think I know enough to pick out bad coffee – this most definitely did not fit that bill. And as for that first egg tart, it was creamy and very more-ish; although they admitted that they didn’t make them themselves, they were going to give them a shot. I wish them the best in this endeavour

Since that first visit, I’ve also had the pleasure of having their almond croissants, which are a real guilty pleasure of mine and, I feel a good way of measuring up different places that sell them. Deli X’s almond croissants are rather sinful, with a generous filling of smooth and rich almond paste nestled amongst light, flaky and buttery pastry. The croissants occasionally have a bit too much powdered sugar on it, but other than that they make for a great afternoon snack.

All in all, it looks like a place you could linger in for an hour (as I have done on a few occasions, mainly after job interviews), reading one of the books that they have on their shelves, talking to the owners – or, as I did on a recent visit, you can admire the art they hang on the walls. Superhero art this time around – I was invited along to a private viewing the next night, so as to meet the artist and perhaps purchase a piece to adorn mine and my brother’s place. Unfortunately I already had something planned, but I appreciated the gesture.

VERDICT – A good place. I always enjoy warm welcomes, and they are in abundance in Deli X. When coupled with a feel that is relaxed, spacious and comfortable in its uniqueness, I think that Deli X is on to something here.

Currently listening to: Hexes – Lipgloss Ghosts

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

It’s a new day, it’s a new burger: BRGR.CO throws its hat in the ring

Copyright of BRGR.CO. Sourced from BRGR.CO website

Copyright of BRGR.CO. Sourced from BRGR.CO website

Cuisine: American

Address: 187 Wardour Street

Area: Soho

Nearest Station: Tottenham Court Road/Oxford Circus

Tel.: 020 7920 6480

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

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Sinful snacks, Friendly conversation, Filling meal, Good sides

BRGR.CO first appeared on my radar courtesy of my brother pointing me and his friends in the direction of an offer of a free burger to the then-unknown BRGR.CO’s first 500 Twitter followers. “Who were these guys?” was my first question. “When shall we collect on our free burger?” was my second.

So, having followed them and then having rounded up a posse, we hit BRGR.CO to see how one of London’s newest additions to the burger scene was doing.

In light of some of the pretty savage reviews we’d been reading in the days immediately after its opening, I was somewhat nervous about what to expect – but in the end, I was pleasantly surprised by BRGR.CO. Not amazed, but just surprised.

Our waitress was a delight – all smiles, friendly chatter and helpfulness. Even as our group expanded from 3 to 5, she was obliging enough to scrounge around for other chairs and tables in order to accommodate us all. Nothing could flap her; thankfully for her, all we needed was for her to note down our food.

An order of onion rings went down quite the treat as my brother and I waited for our friends to turn up. Nice and crunchy, full of real onion flavour (I’m looking at you, Burger King, even if I do love your onion rings so), and not overly greasy, it was a shame that there wasn’t more to the serving.

Fries fries fries

Fries fries fries

We were excited by the number of fries options on offer, and proceeded to order enough to feed a small army – regular, truffle parmesan, chilli and chilli and cheese. The chilli was suitably meaty and messy and imparted its saucy flavour well to the fries, but I must say that I very much enjoyed the truffle parmesan fries, even if the topping resembled some sort of gloopy béchamel sauce. What sort of parmesan – and truffle ‘sauce’ – are they using that it melts like that? No matter, I would have gladly had another bowl of it.

Now on to the main event – the BRGRLICIOUS burgers. I had ordered the 6oz. (it being the biggest option in the freebie deal), which they recommend having medium rare to medium. So as to “preserve the juiciness and the flavour”. The burger comes with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and dill pickles on the side, so you have to pay a bit extra for things like cheese and bacon. I opted for the provolone, as it’s not something you see in a burger that often.

The 60z burger. Maybe I should have put the toppings under the burger?

The 60z burger. Maybe I should have put the toppings under the burger?

The provolone didn’t really add much to the burger. Additionally, when I took the burger apart in order to put the greenery inside, the provolone really didn’t make it look great. My brother and friends were similarly puzzled by this assemble-it-yourself set-up (maybe we’re just a lazy bunch who need our burgers spoon-fed to us).

The burger itself: there was a pleasing char-grilled flavour, good meatiness, some juiciness… but little else. The burger tastes a bit flat; it feels a bit flat. Maybe it’s a lack of compelling seasoning, or maybe the thinness of the patty reduces the burger’s impact. When compared to the bog-standard fast food burger, it is much better, but when lined up against the best that Soho has got to offer – Patty & Bun being a good example of a stellar recent opening – it falls rather short.

Considering the time and effort they’ve taken to put this whole operation together, and the pride they take in their ingredients, you would expect something a bit better. So perhaps BRGR.CO hasn’t quite hit its stride yet. Let’s hope that they do.

VERDICT – An okay experience. They’ve done a good job with the space, and they’ve definitely hired some great people to take care of customers. But the burgers themselves were not awe-inspiring. If BRGR.CO are going to pitch themselves in the top league of burgers in London, they need to do more to create a compelling patty. They definitely have the potential for it.

Currently listening to: Gojira – Into the Wilderness

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

Winter warmers at William Curley

Copyright of William Curley. Sourced from William Curley website

Cuisine: Café

Address: 198 Ebury Street, SW1W 8UN

Area: Belgravia

Nearest Station: Sloane Square

Tel.: 020 7730 5522

Website: http://www.williamcurley.com/

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Friendly conversation, Loitering over drinks, Quiet meal, Ladies lunching, Sinful snacks

After a more than satisfying brunch at the Ideal Café (greasy spoon much-frequented by local cabbies; their portions are hearty and the prices happy), me and my companion were looking for a hot drink over which we could have a little wind-down and continue our afternoon of chatting. Our mutual friend had pointed us in the direction of this place that does “pretty amazing hot chocolate”, which sounded absolutely perfect for an Arctic-like October Sunday.

William Curley, the location of this “pretty amazing hot chocolate”, is not just a café – it’s a chocolate emporium. A counter filled with truffles of varied and bedazzling flavours (wasabi-infused chocolate, anyone?) awaits the curious shopper, whilst the shelves are filled with more sinful-looking slabs of fine chocolate. However, when prompted by the counter girl if we needed any help, my companion went straight to the point and said that we’d heard about their hot chocolate. To see her face immediately light up with a smile was a very encouraging. Even better was the way in which she then stated the favourites of her and her colleague; here are some staff who are fully engaged with the product and the concept, and who evidently loooove chocolate (our friend did warn us about this, as he’d decided to see what would happen if he told one particular man that he quite liked Cadbury’s). Feeling pretty happy with our orders, my companion and I retired to one of the booths which provided some quiet as well as a sweeping view of the length of the shop. This was shaping up quite nicely…

Copyright of William Curley. Sourced from William Curley website

And indeed, the hot chocolate was excellent. I had plumped for their gianduja blend – I am SO glad that I am not allergic to nuts, as I love them too much – whilst my companion was a bit more adventurous and had their chilli-infused Aztec blend. Mine was sweet and nutty, whilst hers had enough of a kick to really liven up the drink and cut through the darkness of the chocolate. I had been hoping for something a bit thicker (as they call it in the Philippines, Tsokolate eh – if you are ever served Tsokolate ah, then you should know your host is skimping and serving watered down stuff… which is fine, if that’s what you asked for), but sometimes my expectations are best left at the door. We took our time to savour the hot chocolate, and left thoroughly warmed. If I ever meet this William Curley fellow, I will salute him. Not shake his hand, but salute him… it’s that special.

VERDICT – Highly recommended. Given that they have taken to hibernating in cafés and drinking copious amounts of hot chocolate, I am sure that my mother and her West London ‘ladies lunching’ crew would appreciate getting pointed in the direction of William Curley. But as for my companion and I, apart from swooning from the lovely hot chocolate, we were dazzled by the display of sinful treats and, rather surprisingly, what looked to be well-priced dessert wines on display. This will definitely be a place I will have to visit the next time I’m in that part of town. I hope my friends who live nearby continue to give me a good reason to come over!

Currently listening to: Mastodon – Curl of the Burl

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