Posts Tagged With: Smart-casual dining

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

Gotta get down on Sunday: A roast for you and a roast for me at The Pig & Butcher

Copyright of Pig & Butcher. Sourced from Pig & Butcher website

Copyright of Pig & Butcher. Sourced from Pig & Butcher website

Cuisine: British

Address: 80 Liverpool Street, N1 0QD

Area: Angel

Nearest Station: Angel/Highbury & Islington

Tel.: 020 7226 8304

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

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Buzzing atmosphere, Filling meal, Smart-casual dining, Beer selection

“The earliest booking I can get for Sunday Roast is 6pm,” my friend’s message read. This was a perfectly good time for an early dinner – but as a lunch (which was the original intention), this was somewhat pushing it a bit.

The Pig & Butcher in Islington is a popular place, no doubt about it. It was heaving with people by the time I got there, and so it was a struggle to get through the closely-packed tables and the pressing crowd to meet my friend at the bar.

The atmosphere was buzzing, to say the least. The sounds of a thousand conversations reverberated off the wooden panelling, the wooden floor, the wooden fixtures and the wooden furniture, making for an exciting feel but also a bit of loud environment for talking. This was a bit of a shame, as there was a lot of catching up that needed doing.

As we waited at our booth for the others to arrive, I was able to sample the very extensive beer list and display some ale snobbery (I am such a sucker for these). The Hackney Brewery Golden Ale was a good choice, being suited for lovely spring evening – not too bitter, with a rounding and warming flavour that enveloped my tongue in a slight hint of sweetness. Now that I read that last sentence, my gosh doesn’t that sound pretentious? If I ever start carrying around a spitting bucket, please do feel free to slap me.

In any case, the pretentiousness was not allowed to blossom, as the rest of the crew arrived and we got down to the business of ordering. Sunday Roasts all around – what else could it be on a Sunday?

Roast beef - all juiced and raring to go

Roast beef – all juiced and raring to go

I managed to get a good glimpse of a friend’s roast beef, as it was mistakenly placed in front of my salivating eyes. As you can see from the photo, it looked ridiculously juicy and almost creamy looking – it was an enticingly pink colour all throughout, but still had a tasty-looking charred exterior. As it was taken away and given to the right recipient, I could feel the food envy building…

Roast lamb - meek and mild

Roast lamb – meek and mild

But as my roast lamb arrived, the envy dissipated and was replaced with pride. Again, pink all throughout, with a layer of charred fat and skin looking extremely juicy and devilish. But whilst the lamb was juicy and really flavourful, I did find it a bit chewier than expected – it wasn’t as melt-in-the-mouth as other lamb I have had, and so it did put my jaw to work. As for the vegetables, they were cooked just right and had a satisfying bite to them, but could have done with just a smidgen of seasoning to liven them up a bit (my family’s local in Surrey actually goes the extra mile and has a selection of maple-glazed vegetables, usually parsnips, carrots and squash, with lightly-pickled red cabbage). However, the potatoes were superbly crispy, and the Yorkshire pudding was fluffy, doughy and crunchy, all at the same time.

Feeling the food envy come back, I desired to try the beef and so managed to swap some lamb with a friend – and yes, that small mouthful of beef was as good as it first looked. Perhaps next time I will have to go for that.

Surprisingly, we were not all completely stuffed with those hefty roasts: there was still space for dessert! Or some dessert at least – there were six of us sharing three desserts (the girls were watching their petite waist lines; me, not so much).

A sweet way to end the day

A sweet way to end the day

We had the parkin with toffee sauce and clotted cream (a luxurious sticky toffee-type pudding without the dates; the clotted cream added good richness to the slightly-thin caramel sauce), the apple & rhubarb crumble with vanilla ice cream (lots of crumble which I always enjoy, along with soft and sweet apples and rhubarb) and what I think was the malted chocolate mousse with hazelnut praline and milk sorbet (I remember this less well, as it was at the far end of the table).

It was, all in all, a leisurely (and very) late Sunday Roast lunch, perfect for a group of friends to meet and catch up over. We therefore rolled our way out of the Pig & Butcher, big and contented smiles on our faces, ready to face the oncoming night and the dreary Monday morning that it heralded.

VERDICT – A good place. It had a nice feel about it, as befitting a rustic city pub in the middle of classy Islington, and the busy atmosphere definitely contributed to the vibe (if you don’t mind the noise, at least). It was a good solid Sunday Roast, which whilst not the best I’ve had, would be more than enough to tempt people out of their homes and away from their own home-cooked versions. It’s definitely a place to check out for the rest of the week.

Currently listening to: Our Lady Peace – Middle of Yesterday

Categories: British, Pub | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A steak that would mash your insides: Getting our beef on at MASH

Copyright of MASH. Sourced from MASH website

Copyright of MASH. Sourced from MASH website

Cuisine: American

Address: 77 Brewer Street, W1F 9ZN

Area: Soho

Nearest Station: Piccadilly Circus

Tel.: 020 7734 2608

Website: http://www.mashsteak.dk/restaurants/london/

Pricing: High

Good For: Filling meal, Proper service, Carnivorous eating, Ambience, Smart-casual dining, Place for romance, Quality meat

Well, that was a filling meal. Stuffed right to the gills, rolling out of there like a tubby barrel, groaning at the sides; I’d been MASH’ed.

Let’s rewind a bit. My dad wanted to take me and my brother out for a nice steak meal, and after scoping out a number of different places, finally settled on MASH. MASH, if you don’t know, supposedly stands for Modern American Steak House, but rather confusingly has come to us via Denmark, but fear not – this was a thoroughly American evening.

Your first impression is shaped by the rather spacious and grand lobby you enter at street level, guarded by an imposing bouncer and overseen by an ever-smiling receptionist of sorts. Once she took my details, she informed me that my party were waiting for me downstairs, but what she didn’t mention was that there would be two waitresses waiting there too, greeting me by name and shepherding me to my seat. So far so good.

Your second impression is formed by the cavernous space that greets you as you enter the bar and main dining room. All decked out in Art Deco and illuminated by warm lighting, the area is truly impressive. How did they get such a big basement, with such high ceilings, right in the middle of Soho?? You could spend a good few minutes just looking around, soaking up the atmosphere and imagining you were in 1930’s New York, as smooth jazz tinkled over the sound systems.

Cavernous. Like a cave

Cavernous. Like a cave

Your third impression is coloured by the large racks and chunks of beef hanging to dry in their airing cupboards separating the bar and the restaurant. I won’t go so far as to say that I am astounded and wowed by raw meat (a childhood spent around the wet markets in Hong Kong can have that effect upon you), but I was still fascinated by the way that they were being presented almost like pieces of art. Pieces of succulent, tender, meaty, art……. Ahem.

So, let’s talk food. Let’s talk STEAK. I opted for the bone-in N.Y. strip (approx. 600g), culled from IBP prime, Nebraska cattle. For those uninitiated to what this means, N.Y. strip is cut from the short loin and is a rather tender piece of meat, being from a little-used muscle; it was also described to me by my brother, steak expert that he is, as like the bigger half of the T-bone steak and with a bit more fat to it. And as for IBP prime, Nebraska, “this certified and hormone-free, corn-fed beef is as tender and flavourful as you can imagine”.

Bone-in N.Y. strip. Imagine all of that meat in your stomach. OUCH

Bone-in N.Y. strip. Imagine all of that meat in your stomach. OUCH

As far as I was concerned, it was a wonderfully tasty steak that had no need of sauce. Cooked perfectly to rare, it was extremely succulent and not hard to chew through. But I must reserve highest praise for the fat lining the edges of the N.Y. strip – never have I had fat that melted that easily in my mouth. None of this horrible stringy and chewy fat that I can picture very clearly on that Slug & Lettuce steak a colleague had down in Poole (*shudder*); it actually felt socially acceptable to eat fat this luxurious. All in all, I was very happy with my choice of steak; I think we were all happy with our choices, my brother and my dad contented as they were with the long-bone ribeye (Danish beef, dry-aged for 70 days. 70. DAYS. I did not know you could age beef for that long).

As for sides, I accompanied this with macaroni and cheese (rich, thick and creamy) and creamy spinach (creamy, unsurprisingly). And, since the 600g of steak had quite properly finished me off, all that was left for me to have for dessert was a richly sweet glass of 2008 Patricius “Katinka”, Late Harvest Tokaji. What a perfect way to end an evening of gluttonous steak eating.

Why you gotta hurt me like that?

Why you gotta hurt me like that?

VERDICT – A good place. It’s a rather impressive venture, all the way from the extremely friendly staff to the atmosphere and décor and to the well-executed steaks. Rather cheekily, they delivered the bill to us in an envelope labelled “The Damage”, but I think that just topped off what an enjoyable evening it was, where a father was able to take his two darling sons out for a ‘simple’ steak dinner.

Currently listening to: Cancer Bats – Drive This Stake

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

A slice of Bangkok in London: Heat and spice at Naamyaa Café

Elephant-tastic

Welcome to the jungle

Cuisine: Thai

Address: 407 St John Street, EC1V 4AB

Area: Angel

Nearest Station: Angel

Tel.: 020 3122 0988

Website: http://www.naamyaa.com/

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Smart-casual dining, Spice, Filling meal, Fresh ingredients, Buzzing atmosphere, Warmth in your belly

“Did you come because of the magazine?”

The place had become rather busy not too long after we’d arrived at just after 6:30pm. After some impressive reviews in both the Evening Standard and Time Out, perhaps this shouldn’t be so surprising. However, because of these glowing reviews as well as all the hype circulating around town, I was just a bit sceptical as to how good Naamyaa was actually going to be.

As a take on the sort of modern café you would find in Bangkok, it does stand out a bit in straying away from the standard dishes and in offering dishes more attuned to quotidian Thai tastes, but at the same time, I do question how many people are going to order the burgers and/or things like the salad Niçoise, as popular as they would be in Bangkok.

As my friends and I found, the dishes that we really wanted – namely the turnip cake starter and the tom yam goong hotpot for two – were the over-subscribed and hence missing options of the night. Our server promised not to break our hearts with further bad news, and she managed to keep her vow.

So, to snack, we had cashew nuts lightly fried with garlic, chilli and herbs, which was quite revelatory for all of us in terms of flavour combination. And of course, any dish with crunchy garlic and chilli bits has got to be good. It’s a definite must-have snack whilst browsing the rest of the menu.

Just be careful though – if you are not on the ball, they will take the bowl away even if the bottom is carpeted with the delicious crunchy bits. We successfully batted away our overly-eager waitress, but it did become a bit of a running joke that she was constantly eyeing up our empty plates. On the other hand, she has to be commended for her attentiveness.

As for the starters, we ordered the jasmine tea-smoked baby back pork ribs, the Thai baby calamari, and the chicken wings. The ribs were delectable – falling off the bone, tender, sweet and juicy, though my taste buds aren’t well-trained in picking out tea-smoked flavours. The calamari had what I would call a husky flavour, warmth imparted by the mix of spices coating each squiggly piece, all delivered without the customary crunchy batter (which I usually prefer, but in this instance I can forego). The chicken wings, I think though, were the best of the lot, having a real crisp skin overlaying soft and well-cooked meat.

We also ordered the green papaya salad to accompany our starters as our token healthiness for the night. Alas, I was not particularly wowed by it – I felt that it lacked real tartness and bite, and although we were offered and promised spice, it was a bit of a mild affair. Overall, it added little to the meal.

Isaan chicken - delectable grilled chicken

Isaan chicken – delectable grilled chicken

But not so for the main courses that we had. I tried some of Friend A’s beef laksa, and was pleased with its grainy coconut curry sauce; however, though both he and I enjoyed the flavours, I would suggest that if you’ve come to Naamyaa for Thai food, then laksa (being of Malaysian origin) shouldn’t really feature on your radar. The Isaan chicken, on the other hand, should. A bit more of a unknown dish from northeast Thailand (at least when compared to usual Thai restaurant fare), Naamyaa’s version was succulent and fully infused with charcoal flavours – I would have ordered this if Friend B had not gotten to it first (we were operating a policy of trying as many dishes as possible), and I always defer to ladies.

Curried stir-fried soft shell crab - not pulling any punches

Curried stir-fried soft shell crab – not pulling any punches

So, onto my dish – the curried stir-fried soft shell crab rice set. Ignoring the fact that the rice seemed a bit dry and hard (I’m not just saying this because I love my rice soft and sticky), this was a wonderful dish. The lumps of soft-shell crab were distinctly-flavoured, and the meat softly textured – it was a bonus that there was plenty of it mixed up in the thick and highly-spiced curry sauce, amidst the copious amount of chillies and fried spring onion pieces (I looove those). The heat was tempered by a generous side salad that included cucumber, and so I was able to clean everything out of my bowl. It’s fair to say I had a good time with the soft shell crab rice.

Black tapioca pearls in coconut cream, topped with pomegranate seeds and toasted sesame seeds. A bit of a (tasty) mouthful

Black tapioca pearls in coconut cream, topped with pomegranate seeds and toasted sesame seeds. A bit of a (tasty) mouthful

I similarly had a good time with dessert, too. After an impassioned recommendation from our waitress, I changed my original choice of pandan and coconut agar-agar and instead opted for the black tapioca pearls in coconut cream, and was well-rewarded with a very fetching dessert. The pearls were chewy bordering on the too-soft, but the coconut cream was lusciously smooth and superbly enhanced by the crunch of pomegranate seeds and the striking toasted sesame seeds that formed the topping. An imaginative and fun dessert, I felt that that it was far superior to Friend A’s balsamic strawberries with yoghurt ice cream and Friend B’s mascarpone ice cream with strawberries, both of which looked very much like each other once subjected to mixing.

We left that night, warm of belly and content of heart. Naamyaa’s performance that night, in our eyes, justified those glowing reviews and all that hype. Although we did miss out on our tom yam goong and our turnip cake, I guess it means that we’ll just have to return for a second visit… *sigh*

VERDICT – A good place. Naamyaa was a fun experience and we did enjoy our meals, but there’s just something nagging away at the back of mind about the place. Maybe the decorations make it look too slick, maybe it was the dry rice, maybe it was missing out on the turnip cake; I don’t quite know. Just don’t let that get in the way of you going along and giving it a good shot.

Currently listening to: A Day to Remember – The Downfall of us All

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

Steak is what we wanted, and steak is what we got: Flat Iron sets up shop in Soho

Copyright of Flat Iron. Sourced from Flat Iron website

Copyright of Flat Iron. Sourced from Flat Iron website

Cuisine: Steak

Address: 17 Beak Street, W1F 9RW

Area: Soho

Nearest Station: Oxford Circus/Piccadilly Circus

Tel.: N/A

Website: http://flatironsteak.co.uk/

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Friendly conversation, Quality meat, Smart-casual dining, Carnivorous eating, Good sides

Once upon a time, there was an outfit offering steak in a tucked away room above a quaint ickle pub called the Owl and Pussycat, hidden away down a small alley in a distant neighbourhood called Shoreditch. This outfit called themselves Flat Iron, and marketed themselves around a relatively unknown cut of meat called the, er, flat iron. The perfect recipe to remain off the radar and continue in relative obscurity.

Well hello there, Mr Flat Iron

Well hello there, Mr Flat Iron

Pffft. Yeah right. When I did go with friends, it was the last week of their residency at the Owl and Pussycat, and although we were able to waltz in just after 6pm for a table, by the time we left the queue was IMMENSE. Flat Iron had hit upon something golden: a tender, delicious steak at very affordable prices (nearly everyone in our group had the wagyu special, for only £16), in one of the most happening neighbourhoods in London (yeah, I just said happening, urk).

But I’m not here to talk about days of yore. I’m here to talk about Flat Iron’s new base at 17 Beak Street. They quietly opened last week, see, a bit earlier than expected, so I thought that it was the perfect time to rally the troops and organise an outing for some meaty tenderness. One of the troops had been so eagerly awaiting Flat Iron’s opening that he replied to my text before I even had the chance to put the phone down. Expectations were high; Flat Iron had better deliver!

The good delivery started as soon as I walked in the door: with a smile and a warm welcome, I was ushered downstairs to the bar to await my friends and a table, and was pleasantly surprised to find it quite spacious. I hate being asked to wait at the bar for a table, only to find that I am scrunched between the bar stools, the small packed-together tables and busy wait-staff carrying precariously perched plates of food around. Not so at Flat Iron, where I was able to prop myself up at a table and enjoy my negroni and the popcorn that had been popped in beef dripping, all in relative peace and comfort.

It wasn’t long before the others arrived. When Hungry Friend (she’d forgotten to eat lunch – how, I really don’t know) plonked herself down at the table, her eyes popped at the thought of beef-dripping popcorn; and into her mouth they all popped. Thank heavens they’re free and all-you-can-eat, as we must have polished off three cans whilst down there. A friendly note for the Flat Iron crew: starving girls need feeding, and some bar snacks would not have gone unappreciated that night.

But no matter, for even though there were five of us our table was ready within ten minutes and we were guided back upstairs. I suppose the short wait was a result of it being only their second day of being open to the public (and the fact that they have two floors of dining now), but I felt particularly blessed after the queues I’d seen at the Owl and Pussycat. Just as short was the time it took for us to order – with only one main course on offer, do you really need to spend ages deliberating? – as well as get more popcorn for our ravenous Hungry Friend. The amount she devoured was scary.

We tried to take her mind off the wait for our food, but Hungry Friend’s situation was not helped when the kindly staff accidently brought someone else’s order to our table (the spectre of my experience at Patty & Bun back to haunt me?). Although they were quick to realise the mistake, it was still enough time for some salt to be added to one steak, rendering it useless for its original dining destination. So, it had to sit there and wait for the rest of the dishes, taunting Hungry Friend and making the minutes stretch into days. More popcorn and the sympathetic attention of the staff could not ameliorate the situation enough.

Look at those beauties - medium rare flat iron, crispy fries and aubergine bake

Look at those beauties – medium rare flat iron, crispy fries and aubergine bake

So we were thankful when the rest of the food did come. I was concerned that my first dream-like experience back at the Owl and Pussycat would have spoiled my expectations, but I needn’t have worried, as my medium rare steak was glorious: the tender, pink slices that were meltingly soft were full of flavour, so much so that I didn’t feel the need to use any of the sauces our table had on offer. It combined very well with the crispy fries, and even better with the aubergine bake (I forget exactly what was in it) that was juicy and delicious. It was a perfect reflection of that taste experience earlier in the year.

VERDICT – Highly recommended. It is a quality steak; it is served at a great price for what it is; it is centrally-located in Soho. Surely that’s a tick list for success? All five of us thoroughly enjoyed our meal, and left satisfied with the experience, even if there were a couple of service lapses (especially painful for Hungry Friend, as she stared down that lonely, mis-ordered steak that was not hers). These slight lapses, however, I can forgive as ‘early days’ problems needing to be ironed out (maybe with a flat iron?? HA). But with a staff that friendly and attentive, I’m sure Flat Iron will go on to do good, very good. Get in there before the queues build!

Currently listening to: Dem Brooklyn Bums – Guido Slouch

Categories: Steak | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments