Posts Tagged With: Spice

Lunchtime fun time in Croydon: Part 1

Nearest Station: East Croydon/West Croydon

My team got moved down to Croydon in January this year – let me tell you this, it is a very different place from Canary Wharf. But whilst there aren’t that many suits and ties down there, there is still a Waitrose!!

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This isn’t Croydon…

However, unlike a few of my colleagues, I was rather okay with the transition: I was rather familiar with shopping and eating in Croydon from my days living in Surrey, and my commute is now hella easy and crowd-free… and I suppose I was getting a bit tired of the samey-chainey food options in the Wharf (WASABI I HATE YOU SO MUCH).

Sure, I would miss the lunchtime window-shopping, the glass-steel-marble skyscrapers, the preppy hot girls in their finest office wear, the… erm, prestige I guess of working in Canary Wharf? But hey, I love (re)discovering different parts of London; Croydon lunchtimes would therefore be fun times.

Over the past few months I have therefore taken it upon myself to discover the best in lunchtime dining in Croydon – not just for my stomach’s sake, but also maybe for my career’s sake: I think I’m well on my way to becoming my team’s (hopefully indispensable) Food Guy. See below for the results of my exhaustive, scientific and completely objective study.

 

Uncle Lim’s Malaysian Kitchen

Cuisine: Malaysian

Address: Whitgift Centre, CR0 1RZ

Tel.: 020 8688 8378

Website: N/A

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Cheap and cheerful, Filling meal

Ah yes, good old Uncle Lim’s; I’ve known you for a long time.

Cheap and cheerful Malaysian canteen that can whip up dishes fresh from the kitchen or, the more usual option for me, a selection of food from their hot counter, packaged into a Medium Meal Deal (rice/noodles, one meat, one veg, one drink) or their Large Meal Deal (rice/noodles, two meat, one veg, one drink).

Portions are hearty (the Large will put you into a food coma. You have been warned), the prices are cheap, the turnover of the food is fast enough, and the quality itself decent for what it is.

The Malaysian lamb curry may be a bit too bony and the salt and pepper squid a bit chewy, so I would go for the beef rendang (rich and flavourful but not too spicy) and the sambal aubergines – they are both delightful. The rice is soft and fluffy, whilst the noodles are a bit plain but more-ish in that “fried food tastes so good” way.

I also recently had the char kway teow; very generous portion and again very tasty. Rather surprisingly, the prawns were not the piddly kind you get in the supermarket, but more properly-sized beasts. Not bad for a canteen in Croydon!

Char kway teow = warmth in my belly

Char kway teow = warmth in my belly

It certainly does not stack up against Satay House or Melur, my two favourite Malaysian restaurants in London, but then again Uncle Lim’s has no pretensions (and certainly not the prices) to be like them. This is a place for a filling and hearty lunch that delivers flavour, if not sophistication.

I took my team’s business analysts here for lunch once; several have been back, including very recently for a colleague’s leaving lunch. If it’s good enough for them, surely it’s good enough for you?

VERDICT – A good place. Let me make clear that this is not the height of fine Malaysian dining in the capital, but it’s not trying to be like that, and so cannot be rated in the same way. You want something different in Croydon? You want teh tarik? You want a hearty meal that delivers on flavour for a good price? Then Uncle Lim can feed you, and he will feed you well.

 

Chai Corner and Chilli Chutney

Copyright of Chai Corner. Sourced from Chai Corner website

Copyright of Chai Corner. Sourced from Chai Corner website

Cuisine: Indian/Pakistani

Address: North End Mall, CR0 1UB

Tel.: 020 8633 1779

Website: http://www.chai-corner.com/

Pricing: Cheap

Good For: Cheap and cheerful, Takeaway

I was rather surprised to spot these guys in the Allders mall: Indian street food in Croydon? Seems a bit too hipster for the area… but the more important question is – how do they square off against the currently on-trend Dosa Deli and Everybody Lovelove Jhal Muri Express (as if that’s even a legitimate question)?

The reason I group Chai Corner and Chilli Chutney together is because a cursory internet search and first-hand experience shows them to be owned by the same people – and funnily enough, they do seem to cook each other’s food, with the ladies at Chilli Chutney producing the wraps for the lads at Chai Corner. Interesting business plan…

Regardless of who is making the wraps, they are tasty enough for lunch. The first time I went, I had the paneer tikka wrap: adequate amount of paneer filling bulked out by salad and a flavourful if mild tikka marinade/sauce/spice. I have since followed this up with other wraps, but the meat options present a rather unremarkable dining experience.

I hid away in the corner to eat this. THE SHAME (or rather the smell)

I hid away in the corner to eat this. THE SHAME (or rather the smell)

The pakora were good and crisp and nicely savoury, if rather oily, but the samosa is a nice and fresh little parcel of deep-fried goodness (just about superseding my love of cold 85p samosas from the corner shops, the height of gastronomic experience). A further visit for a sit-down meal with mia madre saw us having the tandoori chicken – a succulent and juicy affair – whilst the lamb seekh kebab salad was… interesting in its combination of olives and sun-dried tomatoes with lamb seekh.

At least the tikka was the right colour

At least the tandoori was the right colour

Are those... sun-dried tomatoes and olives? YES :-(

Are those… sun-dried tomatoes and olives in an ‘Indian’ salad? YES 😦

The output is quick, the prices are low and the food is adequate. It certainly makes for a change from the normal wrap experience, not that there are many in Croydon.

VERDICT – An okay experience. Dished out from the rough-and-ready stalls lining the passageway in the rather tired Allders mall, Chai Corner and Chilli Chutney’s food do an admirable job of bringing a different kind of Indian experience to town. It’s not particularly polished, but it ticks all the boxes for a decent and quick lunch.

 

Roti Masters

Copyright of Roti Masters. Sourced from Roti Masters website

Copyright of Roti Masters. Sourced from Roti Masters website

Cuisine: Caribbean

Address: 26a St George’s Walk, CR0 1YG

Tel.: 020 8760 0999

Website: http://rotimasters.com/

Pricing: Cheap

Good For: Cheap and cheerful, Filling meal, Friendly conversation, Spice

We’re getting into some serious lunch territory here. I’d initially spotted this little bad boy of a café back in December, on our team away day and Christmas lunch outing, and made a mental note to myself to check it out. Further research revealed some very promising reviews; Roti Masters moved high up my hit list.

And who wouldn’t want to try a bit of Trinidadian roti wrap? For the uninitiated, these are a true fusion food from the Caribbean: Indian-inspired flatbreads (roti) filled with Indian-inspired curries using Caribbean meats, spices and ingredients… it’s a recipe for success, one that I hoped that Roti Masters would, well, have mastered (ha!).

The proof of their ability is clear in the number of times I’ve been back: the man with the plan behind the counter now recognises me and has met my colleagues and even my dad and my mum – he now asks how the parents are doing! This is certainly one friendship I am happy to cultivate.

The Curry Goat Roti is a delight – succulent and tender pieces of goat in a highly-spiced and rich sauce, packed into a light and fluffy roti along with a myriad of other delicious fillings inside the light and chewy roti skin. Although it looks small on the plate, first impressions can be deceptive; this bad boy will fill you up.

It may not be the prettiest thing to look at it, but just remember: it used to look like a goat

It may not be the prettiest thing to look at it, but just remember: it used to look like a goat

The saltfish version of the roti is also very tasty and savoury, but I do understand that saltfish can be divisive – however, this is not too salty, so it’s definitely worth a spin.

The least comfortable lunch I had there was when I rather stupidly ordered the Buss Up Shot (the roti skins by themselves – oh so very more-ish in their fluffy doughiness) alongside a Hot Double (roti filled with mushy and hot chana chickpeas) and some palori (chickpea fritters that are ever-so-slightly crunchy on the outside but all chewiness on the inside) – as you can imagine, I ate myself into a food coma, albeit a delicious one. Have those things on separate occasions, not at the same time, or you’ll be falling asleep at work, as I did. But was it worth it? Oh yes…

VERDICT – A good place. Friendly, delicious, wholesome and tasty, Roti Masters is a no-frills café with some banging food at affordable prices. Not sure there’s much more to say oth- oh wait: “Suck it Canary Wharf!! You may have Roka and Le Relais de Venise, but Croydon has Roti Masters! BOOM”

Currently listening to: Sonic Boom Six – For the Kids of the Multiculture

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Categories: Caribbean, Indian, Malaysian | 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

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