Sunday, June 28, 2009

Eat Malaysian: Rasa Sayang, Chinatown

I'm a pretty poor Malaysian. Having been brought up in Europe, I've never really been in touch with my heritage. And when it comes to food, I think I am probably even worse. I don't like fish, I don't like laksa and I don't really like rendang either, amongst many other things.

However, there are quite a few things I do like. These include fruits (such as durian, rambutan, mangoes, lychees...geez, I'm drooling at the thought of these), roti canai, chicken rice, char kway teow and mee goreng. Most of these are readily available at most mamak stalls and are so dirt cheap that the prices would make you cry.

Outside @ Rasa Sayang

Anyway, walking through Chinatown this weekend, looking for somewhere to eat, I decided to visit a Malaysian restaurant I've had my eye on for a while. On entry, I was pretty embarrassed not to understand a single word any of the waitresses said and when they realised I could only speak English, had a little chuckle to themselves and showed me to a table in a rapidly filling room.

Teh Tarik @ Rasa Sayang

I ordered a Teh Tarik whilst I perused the menu. Teh Tarik literally means "stretched tea". This comes from the appearance of stretching as the condensed milk sweetened tea is passed between two cups in order to cool down the boiling hot tea. There was no such exuberance on show here but it was very nice.

Roti Canai @ Rasa Sayang

To start with, I ordered some roti canai, a Malaysian flatbread, served with a small bowl of curry. Whenever I go back to KL, Section 17 is one of the first places my family over there take me and we gorge ourselves on roti straight from the oven. This was never going to compete with that. The roti could have been crispier and the accompanying curry had a very strange sweetness to it. It was ok, but that is all.

Hainanese chicken rice @ Rasa Sayang

I was quite looking forward to the Hainanese chicken. Its a pretty basic dish of boiled chicken, to break it down in the basest of terms. The stock formed from boiling the chicken is normally included in a soup and used in the rice so the flavours of chicken run through the entire dish. I'm sorry to say, although it certainly looked the part, I found the whole dish quite bland. I enjoyed the rice, with flecks of ginger running through it, but the chicken itself didn't really have that much flavour and was quite fatty. Even doused in soy sauce, it didn't really take on any of that lovely soy flavour.

Hainanese Chicken @ Rasa Sayang

All in all, the experience was meh. For those unaware of that means, it basically means it was just ok and nothing more. It's not expensive, by any means (my food came to £10) but when you consider how much you would pay for this food on the streets of KL, I really yearn for a return to Malaysia. It has been over 5 years since I was last back and not a lot beats the hawker stalls for value and taste. I'm so glad that I will probably be heading down in the new year, although I'm not sure my waistline will agree.

Rasa Sayang, 5 Macclesfield Street, W1D 6AY

Rasa Sayang on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Eat Vietnamese: Cafe East, Surrey Quays

Cafe East

Surrey Quays is home to all sorts of weirdness. It has an assortment of pubs ranging from the trendy to the derelict. It is home to probably the worst shopping centre in London (saved only by a massive Tesco's which never actually has anything you want), Europe's only fully digital cinema and a rather large bowling alley. Oh yes, entertainment central.

What I have also found out recently, is that it appears to be home to a rather vibrant Vietnamese community. There are a few Vietnamese restaurants dotted around, and the one I seem to hear about the most is Cafe East. Now I come to Surrey Quays quite a lot to visit the quite excellent cinema and was totally unaware to its existence. So last week after watching the pretty amusing film, "The Hangover", sister no 1 and I went in search of this gem in Surrey Quays' crown.

Inside @ Cafe East

We actually found it at the bottom of the massive car park outside the cinema and bowling alley. We even headed back out to the main road only to nearly miss it and loop back upon ourselves. Once we got there, we discovered that it was full to brimming with Vietnamese people, a sure fire way to guarantee the authenticity of the place. After a short wait, we were shown to our tables.

Che Ba Mau and Cafe Ba @ Cafe East

First, I wanted to sample some of their drinks, my sister going for the iced coffee whilst I went for Che Ba Mau (an interesting symphony of colours in a glass). The coffee was strong and refreshing and although mine was slightly erring on being a dessert, packed to brim with sugared kidney beans, it was very refreshing, just what the doctor ordered on a hot day.

Starter: Banh Cuon

Banh Cuon @ Cafe East

We wondered if we should go for the summer rolls (everyone goes for the summer rolls!) and it certainly felt like summer but opted for the banh cuon instead. And what a dish. These are essentially rice noodles stuffed with mince meat, accompanied by a sausage of sorts and topped with bean sprouts and fried onions. All this and a spicy fish sauce based dipping sauce to boot. Light and refreshing, a cacophony of flavours synonymous with Vietnamese food.

Main: Bun Bo Hue

Bun Bo Hue @ Cafe East

Beef brisket in a spicy soup with vermicelli noodles. Cant really say too much about the flavour of the beef but the broth that it came in was amazing. First you got the flavours of the deep beefy broth, then the lemongrass starts tingling your taste buds, all rounded off by a quick hit of heat. It was like a multi layered gobstopper in broth form! Not what I would have chosen, considering how warm and humid it was, but pretty good nonetheless.

Main: Bun Ga Nuong

Bun Ga Nuong @ Cafe East

Essentially a crispy chicken salad. The chicken was seriously tasty. Not sure how they packed it with so much flavour but the skin was crisp and the chicken moist. This came with a mountain of salad and vermicelli noodles doused in fish sauce, a decent accompaniment but frankly, there was way too much of it. By the time the chicken had gone, I still had over half the salad left!

I guess the Vietnamese don't do dainty, but Cafe East serves great food in great volume at great value. People often mock me for living in South London, but when you get gems like this on your doorstep, it makes you proud to be a saarf Londoner.

Cafe East, 100 Redriff Road, SE16 7LH

Cafe East on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Taste of London 2009

Taste of London is an al fresco food festival based in Regent's Park, showcasing the best food that London has to offer. As soon as the word "food" was mentioned, my ear pricked up and I immediately looked into how I could go. Then I saw the price and baulked. £25 just for entry is a bit steep, I knew I would be forking out even more for food and before you know it, the banks on the phone wondering why you've just spent the lions share of your wages in Regents Park. Anyway, I digress. I was lucky enough to get free VIP tickets through my sisters dodgy connections so off we went.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall at the Taste Theatre

As part of the deal with the tickets we got, we were allowed into the festival 1/2 an hour early. What this meant was no queuing and we got to attend HFW's perfect breakfast. For the first 15 minutes, he bumbled through making a mess of a cheesecake when he finally came clean that his ineptness was due to a bender the previous night (his "chicken out" campaign had won a prize). He persevered and produced a strawberry themed menu with French toast with macerated strawberries and a strawberry thickie. The cheesecake fared less well. Managed to snaffle some of the French toast and warmed to the vinegar and black pepper on the strawberries. Great atmosphere, HFW, a showman to the end!

1st Taste - Wagyu Beef Tataki - Dinings

Dinings, a strange name for a Japanese restaurant, is definitely one of the up and coming restaurants in London. The beef was lovely and tender with a nice zing coming off the dressing. A hit, I want to try the real thing soon. Very soon.

2nd Taste - Grilled rib of 48 day Hereford beef - Quo Vadis

I wasn't sure what to get next but saw these beauties grilling away. I couldn't help myself. I got in line and got some really great beef. The chips were crisp and the beef plentiful. Flavour wise, it was a decent bit of beef well cooked. Lots of little bits of caramelised fat and a nice char. Very happy. Next!

Patrick Williams at the Breakfast Bar

Next up, I went to watch Patrick Williams (chef at the Terrace in Lincoln Inn Fields) cook up a Caribbean breakfast. His rapport with a rather unresponsive audience waned as time went on and I just got the impression that he would rather be somewhere else. Nevertheless, he cooked an interesting green banana porridge and smoked haddock and ackee on melba toast, both accompanied by a different type of Tropicana (sponsors) and both pretty enjoyable.

Jun Tanaka at the French Flair Theatre

I've always been a big fan of Jun Tanaka's. His place at Pearl is great although I haven't been in there in quite a while (must put it on my list) and his food on TV always looks highly appetising. Today, he cooked Monkfish poached in red wine with creamed leeks and a poached pear with chocolate mousse. He was calm and collected, explaining everything he was doing clearly and was generally unflappable. I managed to snaffle tasters yet again and enjoyed every mouthful. I even had my photo taken with the great man!

3rd Taste - Tandoor smoked lamb chops with mint chutney -Benares

I was still hungry and after two demonstrations, it was fast heading towards 4pm and ejection. So I opted for more meat. Good lamb chops, although signs of being rushed. Could definitely have spent a little more time in the tandoor. Not a patch on Tayyabs but that's no surprise.

4th Taste - 7 Hour Braised Daylesford Organic Lamb Shoulder with Balsamic Onions and Mash - Toms Kitchen

Not much to look at but tasted OK. It was getting late in the day and needed to use up my crowns. There were more onions than lamb, the whole dish was a little cold and the strangest thing was probably the mash potato which tasted as if it had been aerated. The flavour in the lamb was ok but it really didn't inspire.

5th Taste - Vanilla and Raspberry Mousse with Raspberry Jelly - Toms Kitchen

Whilst getting my lamb, I went for the sweet at the same time. This was much better presented and bordering on being pretty. The sweet vanilla mousse complemented the tart raspberry mousse nicely. No sign of the advertised jelly but enjoyed it nonetheless.

In between the food and the demonstrations, I wandered around perusing all the exhibitors and sampled bits and pieces here and there. My personal favourites? Beas of Bloomsbury and their cupcake towers, Paul Young's amazing chocolate brownies, some great Italian ice cream and the American Food company where I bought some excellent peanut butter (and would have bought more had it not been quite dear). All in all, a really good day which finished far too early, I could quite easily have spent a few more hours there before we all got turfed out. Its definitely given me a few ideas where I want to go to next, and certainly hasn't dampened my appetite.

Check out the rest of the day here (including guest appearances from a certain Michel Roux Jnr and Atul Kochar).

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Eat French: Le Petit Parisien, Camberwell

One of my old favourite haunts in Camberwell used to be the "Dark Horse" in the middle of Grove Lane. I say used to as it’s been a while since it closed down and was replaced by Le Petit Parisien. A French restaurant in Camberwell, interesting.

When Le Petit Parisien first opened, it received quite a stinging attack on the @camberwellblog (website here). It wasn’t very well received and it sounded like it was still finding its feet. One thing that really impressed me was that the management responded to the criticism and said it was working on rectifying a few of the wrongs outed on the blog. What this told me was that the place was willing to admit that it had made some mistakes, but most importantly, that it was listening to its clientele. People’s opinions will inevitably influence others, but I would rather make my own mind up so off I went.

Initial reaction is that it hasn’t really changed that much. It’s received a lick of paint and few new windows but the décor remains pretty much the same. That’s no bad thing, however. I was always quite fond of the place.

The menu is simple and sticks to some French classics. I went for the steak whilst sis no 1 went for the duck confit.

As we waited for our mains, we were brought a small portion of olives. I found this rather odd, not really something I would expect from a French restaurant. I saw some perfectly good baguettes on the counter and was sort of hankering for a bit of that. But not to worry. I wasn’t seeing any of the service problems that other people had commented on and was having an enjoyable, quiet evening.

The steak arrived and was medium as requested. This was accompanied by a really delicious Béarnaise. Creamy and quite subtle. French Fries were crispy and very tasty if a little on the salty side. Steak is easy to screw up but this was above average. It was tender and flavoursome with a nice char. Not quite up to Hawksmoor standard but a welcome addition to Camberwell.

My sisters duck confit wasn’t quite as successful as my steak but was still quite enjoyable. It was a little on the oily side and the duck was a bit dry in places but the flavours were there and was swiftly polished off. Not too bad.

A quick dinner came to under £15 a head with service so it’s not going to burn a massive hole in your wallet. Honest opinion, its not quite the Dark Horse but I enjoyed myself and will certainly go again. A decent addition to Camberwell’s smorgasbord of restaurants.

Le Petit Parisien
16 Grove Lane, SE5 8SY

Le Petit Parisien on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Eat European: Terroirs, Covent Garden

Last Saturday saw the first official meeting of “The Unspecified Day of the Week, Maybe Once or Twice a Month Club" for those who like to eat a lot (I realise the name needs a bit of work). It was tasked to me to find a suitable location for our inaugural meeting, and after generating a lot of good press in the food blogging world, Terroirs was the location of choice. Accompanying me were the two co-founders, the cannon and the irrepressible (and for once, not late) sis no 2.

Terroirs is about food and wine, where its all about "the purity of the product". Along with the one sheet food menu came their many page wine encyclopaedia. Impressive if you fancy a glug, but we were here to eat and stuck to the water. The food menu is succinct, straightforward and comprises mainly of rustic style dishes. We took an executive decision between the three of us to order as much as we could physically manage.

First to arrive was some bread and butter alongside a portion of duck scratching. The duck scratching were basically fried bits of duck skin and nuggets of meat. These were really delicious, and unbelievably moreish. The sourdough bread, although hard work owing to its chewiness was well worth the extra work, and smothered with the unsalted butter complemented the salty morsels of duck wonderfully. These vanished almost as soon as it hit the table and next time, I'm making sure I order a portion to myself.

Duck Rillettes - Bit of a duck overload here. After the scratching came the rillettes, unctuous and rich. These were also really good, with deep duck flavours bound together with the natural duck fat. Accompanying along side were a mini bowl of cornichons, which frankly, were just not sharp enough to compete with the creamy richness of the rillettes. I know a piccalilli of sorts would have gone down very well.

Globe Artichoke with Anchoiade - This is a dish with an aspect of sentimentality for me. One of the dishes my mother used to cook for us when we were kids was a simply cooked artichoke doused in a garlic and herb based vinaigrette. Fresh and lovely on so many levels. The Terroirs version comprised of said artichoke (with the spiky bits of the heart removed, result!) accompanied by an anchovy based dip. I baulk at the thought of anchovies so stayed well clear of the dip, but the cannon dove straight in. Then stopped abruptly. Although a fan of anchovies, this was too much for her delicate taste buds, declaring it too strong and overpowering, could definitely benefit from being milder.

Piperade Basquaise with Chorizo - In my eyes, the star of the show. The slow roasted, stewed peppers had a really smooth and slightly gooey consistency. It sang of caramelised sweetness. This was nicely contrasted with the savoury smokiness of the paprika rich chorizo. I felt that this was a really well balanced dish and although strictly not mine, I snaffled tasters here and there and when its owner gave up the fight, I happily assisted in clearing the pan clean.

Pot Roasted Quail, Italian Artichokes, Pancetta and Gremolata - This arrived in a mini creuset and its unveiling felt like we were opening a present. We huddled round as I lifted off the lid and sounds of "oooh" could be heard echoing around the dining room. It was very pretty but with the tasting came disappointment. I thought that the quail was actually quite bland and the meat tough. The jus was tasty but very heavy with rosemary and muted the rest of the flavours in the dish. I'm afraid I don't think the Gremolata added anything.

Whole Dorset Crab - Sis no 2 opted for the crab. Although on the small plates menu, I don't think anybody could confuse this as one, its a whole crab for heavens sake! Owing to my particular aversion to this particular crustacean (most crustaceans actually), I abstained from the tasting but was told that it was very nice. And for £12, cant really complain, that's pretty good value for a whole cooked animal!

Alphonso Mango Rice Conde - This was essentially a rice pudding with bits of mango through it. My family are all mango fans and my sisters is a big rice pudding fan so she was very happy with this. Personally, I thought it could have done with being a bit sweeter, a strange request for the naturally sweet alphonso mangoes. Are these mangoes in season yet?

Panna Cotta and Raspberries - A simple dish well executed. The cannon hits another home run with her choice yet again. Sweet vanilla panna cotta with sharp tangy raspberries.

Crepe and Griottine Cherries - A nice dish with aspects of heaven and hell. The crepes were filled with a luscious custard which escaped and oozed all over the plate once the crepe was broken. On the minus side, the cherries and sauce were extremely kirsch heavy. Alcohol is often used to complement the dish by giving a warm sensation on the back of the throat. This felt like someone was trying to burn it down. It overpowered the taste of the cherries.

Terroirs, in a nutshell, is a great addition to the London dining seen. It had its highs and lows, but when the highs are so memorable, then the lows pale into comparison. The food was flavoursome, the service pleasant (although one of the waiters did manage to spill water all over our table) and a great ambience. The best surprise? The bill. Coming to just under £25 a head for a packed 3 course meal inclusive of service is fantastic value.

I know our little "club" is looking forward to its next feed. Let hope its as memorable and enjoyable as this one. Salut!

Terroirs (Website) 5 William IV Street, WC2N 4DW

Terroirs on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 15, 2009

Eat Thai: Mango Tree, Victoria

A good friend of mine has made the rather brave decision to leave his job and pretty much go it on his own. I really admire his decision, it takes a lot of balls to launch yourself into something you don’t fully understand and are ultimately fully responsible for.

So where is this minor monologue meandering to? Food of course! One of the things my friend has to learn about is search and as that is my field of expertise (ahem...) we decided to have a conflab over a “lunch meeting”.

Working in Victoria, you soon realise that you are hardly spoilt for choice when it comes to decent non chain dining establishments. So I logged onto the Taste London website (of which I have become a member) and with a highly appealing 50% off, Mango Tree, a local upper end Thai restaurant, was the destination.

Mango Tree is just round the corner from the Queens gaff and the insides are elegant and clean enough for her majesty herself to pop round for a pad thai or two. As we sat down, we were handed the labyrinthian menu (it's absolutely massive and quite confusing) and ordered some non-alcoholic cocktails. Although these were tasty, at £6 a pop, we were entering the realms of ”taking the piss”. What the hell were they made of? Ambrosia?

As they were running some “Lobster Specials”, I opted for the lobster tempura. These were a total let down. The meat was bland and erring on being well done. The accompanying spicy sauce was like kebab shop burger sauce, only not as nice and not a hint of spice. This dish should have been arrested for crimes against crustaceans.

A main of Pad Ka Pow Moo (stir fried pork with chilli and holy basil) was far better although for a chicken dish, this was very green bean heavy. The accompanying egg fried rice was nice but priced at £4 for a small bowl was outrageous.

I hate to say it but Mango Tree is a big rip off. Clearly marketed at those with big expense accounts, even with the 50% discount, it cost well over £20 a head, not really a cheap lunch. The Queen may well be able to afford it, I somehow don't think she is going to pop round if she reads this.

Mango Tree (website)
46 Grosvenor Place, SW1X 7EQ

Mango Tree on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 12, 2009

Eat Italian: La Famiglia, Kings Road

Its tradition in my family that whenever there is a birthday to be celebrated, we all get together as a family and go have a meal. With sister no. 3 back from the wilds of Scotland (well, Edinburgh), sister no 2’s birthday was the first time we had sat down as a family in a very long time.

After a few hiccups with regards to shut restaurants and re-arranging dates to accommodate people, a destination was set, the aptly named La Famiglia.

La Famiglia, I believe, is a family run restaurant just off the Kings Road and has quite a local following. I for one have been oblivious to the existence of this place (after all, entering this part of town normally brings me out in some sort of rash) but it has been known to feed local A-listers. The restaurant itself is split into various sections but is homely throughout with the walls adorned with what I can assume are the owners family. So where better to spend dinner with my own family? To the food...

As you can see from the pic, the menu is a bit everywhere. The choice really is astounding; I know I struggled to decide on what I wanted. This was further complicated by the tango of finding out what my sisters and parents were going to have, after all, we wanted to try a bit of everything, the Chinese way.

I started with the Mozzarella in Carrozza, essentially deep fried mozzarella with a tomato sauce. These two lumps (is that the correct terminology?) of cheese were well fried, with just the right of bounce and complemented by a tasty oregano based tomato sauce. Nice? Very. Worth £7.50? HOW MUCH!! So, a bit on the pricey side.

For my main, after much umming and ahhing, I settled on the Manzo Marietta. This is a very simple dish of thin slices of beef cooked with oil and garlic. Its dishes like this which really emphasises when simplicity wins the day. This was delicious and light. I can’t really say more than that.

Other dishes ordered around the table included veal, carpaccio, calamari and pasta. All were competently cooked and flavoursome. Out of all the dishes ordered, I can happily say that I made the right choice.

The staff are lovely and attentive and the general atmosphere of the restaurant was understated and familiar. They even brought out my sisters cake and sliced it for us free of charge (it was from Konditor and Cook, and best of all, bright pink! Wish I had taken a picture).

La Famiglia must be doing something right. Having been located in such an exclusive postcode for so long can only be because they are giving the locals what they want. Good food, great surroundings and impeccable service. Only criticisms, the menu could do with shedding a few pounds, primarily from its length, but also from the cost. The menu should say “If you can’t afford it, get your butt back down to South London!” Which I swiftly did.

La Famiglia (Website)
7 Langton Street, SW10 0JL

La Famiglia on Urbanspoon