Saturday, February 28, 2009

Eat Chinese : Dragon Castle, Elephant and Castle

Finding a good Dim Sum place is an essential part of being Chinese. The hunt had begun ever since the Teh family moved over to the UK from Germany and has been ongoing ever since. During this long and arduous journey, we have loved and left the New World in Chinatown (a shame as it used to be brilliant), stuck our noses up at Royal China (overrated and over priced), marvelled at Yauatcha's invention and got confused with the new Dim Sum fusion restaurants (yes you Ping Pong and Dim T).

To cut it short, we've been around a bit. So imagine my surprise when the ground floor off the monstrous blue building at the top of the Walworth road opened up to reveal Dragon Castle. Now this place is a mere ten minutes drive from my flat. This wasn't luck, this was fate.

I have been here many times, so I guess it's about time I wrote about why it's so great. And it is great. I have eaten here for dinner and for Dim Sum (traditional Chinese brunch comprising of dumplings and fried loveliness) many times, and with good reason. Put simply, the food is great. I'm guessing you want a bit more detail, so here it goes.

The Dim Sum menu is pretty straightforward. It's certainly not as fancy as something you would get in Royal China, but at the end of the day, it's all about the taste. The menu itself is quite clear with pictures of all its dim sum and brief descriptions of what they are. The steamed dim sum is of a decent standard. Their Har Gau is juicy and tender and full of prawn, their bean curd rolls are in a lovely sauce with good bit left to the bean curd skins, and their Shanghai soup dumplings full of lovely soup (a sure fire sign of good Dim Sum). Although it doesn't have normal spring rolls (although their prawn ones and Vietnamese ones certainly make up for this), its fried goods are not oily or greasy, and crispy. Definitely try their Wu Kok aka "Crispy Taro Croquette with Pork", absolutely delicious.

Another speciality of theirs is their noodles. Whenever I go there, we normally back up the Dim Sum with a plate of noodles. Personal favourites include their Seafood with crispy noodles and their Beef Ho Fun in black bean sauce.

So, to cut a long story short, this place rocks. The food is great, tastes fresh (I can't guarantee it, but I'm pretty sure they get all their ingredients shipped in daily), is very affordable (try as hard as you may, it's going to end up at about £15 a head) and is endorsed by my dad. Now that may not sound like much, but this is coming from the man where everything is "alright but too expensive". I take him to this place, and you won't hear a peep from him, even when the bill comes.

Dragon Castle on Urbanspoon

Eat French : La Brasserie, Brompton Road

It's a tradition in the Teh family that on your birthday, you get to choose a restaurant to go and have a meal. As my middle sister seems to be spending a lot of time in Fulham (owing to friend and boyfriend commitments), I guess it was no surprise that we found ourselves on the Brompton Road for a nice French supper at La Brasserie.

As the name suggests, decor was very much modelled on a French Brasserie, but as I can't really remember much else about it, can't have been particularly impressive. As we sat down and waited for my sister (who incidentally was late and was only coming from 5 minutes away. FAIL!) We were brought some decent bread, but the star of the show was the butter. Unsalted, creamy and absolutely delicious.

As to the menu, if you're looking for French food, this place ticks all the boxes. Escargot. Tick. Soupe a l'oignon. Tick. Steak Tartare. Tick. I could tick forever. As you can see, prices are in the upper echelons, and after ordering the onion soup and entrecote, I was hoping for fireworks.

What I did get may not have set the night on fire, but were more like sparklers than fireworks. The onion soup was adequately pleasant, with a tonne of Gruyere melted on top. The crouton was, I guess, traditional, but was a little too soggy for my liking. The entrecote was requested at medium and medium it was, with a good flavour. However, it was far too tough.

One thing I noticed was that everything seemed to be very heavily salted. Being the Chinese family we are, we tried a bit of everybody's food. My mum had lamb, which was alright. My sister had the crab linguine which would have been nice, had it not been for the fact that I'm not the biggest fan of crab and it was far too salty. My other sisters duck (yes, I have more than 1. 3 at the last count) seemed to be nice. I didn't have a chance to taste it before she had polished it off. Finally, a side of Potato Gratin was again, predictably, salty and the portion was meagre, very much on the small side.

Final verdict, an ok meal. It was, in my eyes, pretty pricey for what we got, but at the end of the day, this is the heart of Fulham so what really was I expecting?

La Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Eat Burgers : Byron, Kings Road

Prior to an evening out on the lash celebrating my middle sister's birthday, I decided to hook up with my old chum and converted carnivore (he now eats carrots and sometimes mushrooms), Michael, and visit Byron on the Kings Road. Having eaten at their High Street Ken branch before, I pretty much knew what to expect and was looking forward to a decent burger.

Making my way from Victoria, I caught the number 11 bus but seriously underestimated how far down the Kings Road Byron actually was and ended getting off far too early. No matter, it was a lovely crisp dry evening and a good walk was what I needed.

Now, as chance would have it, I "conveniently" bumped into one of gossip mag's favourite targets. Now Lindsay, please stop harassing me. Read between the lines, ITS OVER! Please stop stalking me. Hmm...

Anyway, after that brief brush with Hollywood, it's off for that burger. Having arrived early, I perused the menu whilst sipping on my Oreo shake. The shake by the way is thick and lovely and packed with bits of Oreo. A result in its own right. The menu itself is fairly limited but at the end of the day, this place is a burger restaurant and doesn't pretend to be anything else.

I went for the signature Byron burger with sides of fries and coleslaw. With its provenance plastered everywhere (sourced exclusively from Morayshire, Scotland!) it's essentially a beef burger with cheese and bacon. And not a bad one I must say. The beef was flavoursome, if a little on the dry side. They are meant to be cooked medium but mine was definitely erring on the side of well done. Garnishes were good with a decent pickle and nice sauce. I rather liked the bun too, a very important part of a good burger. It was nice and soft, retained its shape and didn't go soggy. Fries were pretty decent although nothing to crazy over and coleslaw good too.

As burgers go, this place was enjoyable and well worth a visit. One minus, there was an off putting smell of gas lingering around but as my mate pointed out, there are lots of candles everywhere, and if we were going to be blown up, we would already be in small pieces. Strangely reassuring.

Byron on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

See : Southbank, London Bridge to Waterloo

Today’s expedition sees the Tehbus venturing north from Camberwell all the way up to London Bridge in readiness to traverse the expanse that is more commonly known as the Southbank. My intention is to make my way all along the Southbank, taking in all the delights it has to offer, setting off from London Bridge and ending up in Westminster. This covers the first half of the trip, London Bridge to Waterloo.

1. Borough Market - A "must visit" destination for anybody who has even a fleeting interest in food. Be wary, it is only open on Thursday-Sunday, but even if you’re in the area on any other days, there are numerous shops and stalls which are open for your perusal. Packed with fresh veg, oils, breads and pretty much every other comestible under the sun. Most stalls offer little tasters, you will probably fill yourself up before you head for something more substantial, like the venison burgers or authentic German sausages. Notable places to visit include the Ginger Pig (for all your meaty requirements, a great traditional British butchers), Tapas Brindisa (top notch authentic Spanish tapas, try the jamon iberico) and Monmouth Coffee. With my latte from Monmouth in hand, I proceeded west and continued up the Southbank.

2. The Globe Theatre - This theatre is a faithful recreation of Shakespeare's Globe and is somewhat a homage to all things Shakespeare. It’s a great place to experience a Shakespeare play, with a highly unique space and is split between standing and seating. About half the tickets are standing tickets and are dirt cheap. At the moment, they are showing "As You Like It" and "Troilus and Cressida" so catch them whilst you can.

3. The Tate Modern - Continuing west along the Southbank, the next prominent building you will come across is the Tate Modern. Directly opposite St Pauls (and linked via the "wobbly bridge" or the Millennium Bridge as it is better known), the Tate Modern is housed in a disused power station and its main tower stands out along the London skyline. As its name suggests, it houses a plethora of examples of modern art, ranging from lesser known British artists to the more well known such as Picasso and Dali. The main space is what is known as the Turbine hall and is normally dominated by one main exhibition piece. At the moment, this is full of bunk beds with books on them, a dinosaur and a big spider, courtesy of Dominique Gonzales-Foerster. Up to the 3rd floor finds you on the first real exhibition floor and at the moment, the themes are "Material Gestures" and "Poetry and Dream". I wandered around these exhibitions, easily passing a few hours and immersed myself in works from artists all over the world. The expert description next to each piece of art really helps you immerse yourself in the work. Real thought provoking stuff.

After this, I was all cultured out and hungry, so decided to leave the Tate Modern for now and revisit this at a later date. Other current exhibitions include "Rodchenko and Popova" and "Roni Horn aka Roni Horn".

4. The OXO Tower - By this stage, I was starving so I attempted to locate some food. Now don’t get me wrong, the Southbank has an abundance of restaurants and cafes. The OXO Tower is no exception. Housing various shops and restaurants, the piece the resistance is the restaurant located on the 8th floor. So, optimistically, I thought I would head up there and check it out. I knew it would be pricey, but I couldn’t justify forking out £33 on the set lunch. It wasn’t a wasted journey however, as there is a viewing platform affording fantastic views over London. My quest for food continues.

5. Gabriels Wharf - So my next stop was Gabriels Wharf. Having stayed in halls during my uni days on nearby Stamford Street, I used to visit this place fairly regularly. Home to a variety of little craft shops and places to grab a bite to eat, it’s a nice little oasis just off the Southbank. I ended up in the House of Crepes, it just being after pancake day and all, had my food for under a fiver and was on my way.

6. The National Theatre - My final stop is located right next to Waterloo Bridge and is a big grey lump of concrete. I say that disdainfully and in all honesty, this building has the potential to be one of London’s ugliest buildings. However, clever lighting actually makes this place look good, especially at night. Anyway, I digress. What’s important here is what this concrete block houses. Here you will find three theatres, not to mention various bars, shops and restaurants (although they detract from the main feature). These theatres are host to various plays originating from all over the world. Well worth checking out if you have the time. Also, if you book early enough, Travelex run a £10 ticket promotion which is an absolute bargain.

Anyway, after all this walking, I was pretty knackered and ready to go home. I set off for the bus stop located outside Waterloo and headed off home via Somerfield for some pig for dinner.

For more pictures, please feel free to visit my flickr page here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

See : Covent Garden

Covent Garden has always been touted as one of London's premium tourist attractions. Having worked in the area for many years, it had always had a slightly different appeal to me. For me, Covent Garden was mainly about its abundance of bars and places to eat (the essential destinations after a hard days work). For this reason, Covent Garden is and always will be one of my favourite places to spend time in London.

However, a new job had found me relocated to Victoria and since then, I haven't really been back (terrible, I know). With a few hours to kill, I decided to reacquaint myself with the area, go for a walk and put together a virtual guide of my favourite places to visit in the area.

1. CyberCandy - Heading down from Leicester Square, m
y first stop is CyberCandy. For those with a sweet tooth, this is a must visit. Its basically a global sweetshop with a startling amount of sweets and comestibles from all over the world. From A&W Root Beer (my favourite), a 4 pack of Duff Beer (yes, really) and even Caramel Freddos to Tootsie Rolls. Even for those without a sweet tooth, this place is worth a visit just to see the oddities on offer.

2. The Plaza - This is probably what most people think of when they think of Covent Garden and rightly so. The Plaza is very much the centerpiece and houses many little gems which are not to be missed. Firstly, you have the Apple Market. Here, various vendors from near and far come to sell their wares. Yes, it sounds slightly tacky but there are lots of little stalls to browse where much on offer is handmade and its a good way to while away the minutes. If this isn't your thing, there are many other more mainstream shops lining the plaza where you can go and spend your hard earned cash. If your all pooped out from shopping, you can always catch your breath by watching one of the many entertainers dotted around, varying from musicians in the basement to stuntmen outside in the courtyard. If "entertainment" isnt your thing, theres always the famous Punch and Judy pub for a pint with great views over the plaza. And last but by no means least is Ben's Cookies. This is a little cookie stall which sells probably the priciest cookies you will ever eat (normally weighing in at over a quid each!) but God are they good. With a huge variety, its definitely worth splurging out once in a while. When I passed by, it certainly didnt appear as if we were in the midst of a credit crunch. In fact, people were queuing out the door just to get their hands on these cookies!

3. Maiden Lane - Maiden Lane is located towards the southern end of Covent Garden and contains a variety of bars and restaurants. Favourites include The Porterhouse, a maze of a pub, serving a variety of ales and
lagers and Rules, the oldest restaurant in London, serving traditional English classics (admittedly at a price!).

4. Other interesting places - To be honest, Covent Garden is crammed full of places to go and see, go and eat and go and drink, listing all of them would be a pretty massive task. Therefore, im just going to list a few of my other favourites. If
you like shopping, there is a good mix of designer shops mingling with boutiques north of Covent Garden tube station and along Long Acre, this area alone could take up a whole day. Good places to go and grab a meal include Wahaca, which serves Mexican street food (you have to try the pork scratchings with guacamole, it tastes a lot better than it sounds). If you dont fancy eating in, Kastner and Ovens (located at the north end of Floral Street) does good home cooked take away food. If your looking for a good pint, theres always the Lyceum Tavern located on the Strand. This traditional pub serves a decent pint at ridiculously cheap prices (its a Samuel Smiths pub after all, man in the box!). Finally, a tip an old friend once taught me, make sure you look up. You miss so much of London keeping your eyes at street level. One of the best tips anybody has ever given me.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Eat Italian : Rosso Pomodoro, Leicester Square

I met up with my good old workmate Hutch the other day after my regular appointment at the docs. Is he a good mate? Well, when I was ill, he bought me a bunch of magazines and dutifully delivered them to the hospital, even though I had already informed him that I was no longer there! He still sent them to me so I guess the answer is yes, a good mate indeed.

Anyway, I digress. He works around the Strand, and as many of you may know, there is an abundance of chain restaurants to go and eat in the area. Lunchtime in the area is always busy and after an aborted visit to GBK (half term strikes again) we decided to head up to Rosso Pomodoro just round the corner from Stringfellows.

And for once, im thankful for the kids packing their faces with burger.

Rosso Pomodoro is an italian restaurant serving your standard italian fare. A large variety of pizzas and pastas all at about a tenner a piece although there are some decently priced lunch menus incorporating rotating dishes of the day. One of its "stand out points" is that it prides itself on the fact that you are meant to eat to eat your pizza with your hands and you are constantly reminded of this througout the restaurant with signs literally everywhere. I was here for the pizza so pizza I ordered.

Now, before I go onto the food, I have to add a small note. I have always thought that a person can judge a restaurant by its napkins. Cheap establishments often have cheap napkins. An essential part to any meal, its important to have a good one to fully appreciate what is set before you. At Rosso Pomodoro, the napkins speak for themselves. They are nicely patternated, strong with good "wipeability" factor. In fact, they wouldnt look out of place if you pulled it out of your pocket and wiped your brow at a posh dinner party. As Hutch said "there are plastic fibres running through this bad boy!".

So, could the pizza live upto the napkins? I am happy to say, I was quite pleased. The dough was light but firm enough to support the toppings, the crusts were crispy and tasty, the mozzarella was creamy and all in all, this was a highly accomplished pizza. Of the latest breed of wood fired oven pizzas, this was definitely up there. My only criticism was that the tomato sauce, although tangy and rich in tomato flavour, was slightly acidic in taste. A small price to pay for a great pizza. I will definitely pop in again if I am in the area.

Rossopomodoro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 19, 2009

See : The Taming of the Shrew @ The Novello Theatre

One of those things I enjoy doing but don’t do enough (like cooking, playing snooker, anything which involves any sort of effort etc...) is going to the theatre. This is for various reasons (including the fact that it involves effort on my behalf) but mainly due to costs. Going to the theatre and getting a decent seat involves money and often a lot of it. A seat in the stalls of a west end production is often in the region of £40 and upwards, making it pretty hard to justify for a night out. However, there are lots of good discount sites out there with limited offers and if you look hard enough, you can normally find a decent deal.

It is through one of these deals that I found myself in seat N12 at the Novello theatre about to watch the RSC's production of the Taming of the Shrew, slap bang in the middle of the stalls for a mere £20! If you haven’t signed up for emails, do it now. They often have some stonking deals as I found out.

The Taming of the Shrew is classed as one of Shakespeare’s comedy and centers around the marriages of the "shrew", Katherina, and her sister. The play is very much split into two with half centered around the marriage of Katherina to Petruchio and the subsequent "taming" of her and the second sub plot revolves around Bianca, the younger sister, and her suitors eventually leading to her marriage.

For a play which has been adapted many times in the modern day (such as "Kiss me Kate" and "10 Things I Hate About You"), it was always going to be interesting to see how the RSC was going to interpret Shakespeare’s words. In my eyes, this was a play of darkness and light. The light comes from the antics surrounding Bianca's suitors and the lengths they would go to gain her hand in marriage. This part was filled with great comedy moments, none more so than when the fake Lucentio introduces the fake Vincentio to his prospective father-in-law, Baptista Minola. Pure genius, you have to see it to believe it and had me in stitches.

The other part of the play is very much darkness to this light. This mainly revolves around the deconstruction of Katherina by Petruchio. I believe that this is where the phrase "killing with kindness" originates and we indeed see the transformation of a headstrong Kate into a whimpering and subservient Katherina. A star turn by Michelle Gomez of Green Wing fame makes it very hard to tear your eyes of her whenever she is on stage.

All in all, a really good production. I was engrossed for the entire 3 hour running time and it left me really thinking about what I had just seen and ultimately made me want to reread the play, just to revisit any of the nuances I may have missed in the play. It comes highly recommended and is only running till the 7th of March so catch it while you can.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Eat Japanese : Abeno, Holborn

Japanese food comes in many shapes and sizes. Over the years, I have tried various incarnations ranging from Sushi, to Teriyaki to Bento boxes to Tempura to Teppanyaki, the list goes on and on and on. However, one I had never tried was something I have only just come across and thats Okonomiyaki. Literally translated, it means "What you like"-"Grilled" and can be found at the Abeno chain of restaurants.

I decided to visit the Holborn branch as I had also intended on visiting the British Museum just round the corner. Very handy indeed.

I arrived for a late lunch and was pleasantly surprised to find the place pretty busy. Its not a big place but most of the tables were still busy and there was a pleasant smell of grilling. This was unfortunately a smell I was going to become very familiar with.

I sat down and a menu was placed before me. Having done my research, I was here for one thing and one thing only so quickly glanced at the rest of the menu purely out of curiousity. And my oh my, do they seem to have a lot of dishes! Anyway, Lunch Menu C was ordered (a fairly hefty £10.80 for lunch) although again, there is quite a large variety on offer.

Whilst waiting for the main event, I was brought a bowl of Miso (not a bad attempt) and some chicken wings. Whilst I dug into these, they prepared the Okonomiyaki, or japanese version of a pancake, in front of me. I went for their Shinshu Mix which comprised of chicken, asparagus and cheese. The waitress expertly ladled the mixture onto the hot plate and patiently cooked it in front of me. I was expecting a show a la Benihana's (well for the price, some theatrics wouldn't have gone amiss) but the cooking was fairly pedestrian. After a bit of flipping and a bit more grilling, it was ready. The final step appears to be covering it in as much crap as possible. A little bit of white stuff, some brown stuff, some dried seaweed, some fish flakes, some chilli sauce. Basically, enough stuff to make sure you couldnt actually taste the pancake itself. The brown stuff, as I was constantly reminded, was "Special" Okonomiyaki sauce. I tasted it. It tasted a bit like ketchup, but sweeter. Nothing special about it in the slightest.

As to the okonomiyaki itself, I couldnt help feeling that it needed a bit more cooking. It fealt a bit soft in the middle and I dont think it was cooked long enough on a hot enough hot plate. More like a lukewarm plate. It was so mushy in the middle, it felt like I was eating adult baby food.
As you can tell, I wasnt overly enamoured with my meal. It was alright, but thats all it was. For what it was, it was way too pricy and I would be reluctant to fork out so much again.

Oh, and back to the smell. I didnt notice it in the restaurant, but afterwards, it followed me everywhere I went. In fact, I can still smell it now. Not cool.

Abeno on Urbanspoon

Just as an addendum, there are an awful lot of Asian shops in this area, which I found rather strange considering the vicinity to the British Museum. I saw this Korean Grocery store which made me laugh.

Incidentally, my attempt to visit the Babylon exhibition at the British Museum was in vain as it was sold out. I underestimated the power of half term. I never realised that so many teenagers were interested in ancient history. Oh well, will try again at a later date.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Eat Italian : Caravaggios, Camberwell

If you have ever been to Camberwell, you know that you are hardly pushed for somewhere to eat. There are a multitudes of cuisines covering much of the world. If you fancy something from the Far East, there are a multitude of Chinese takeaways, as well as your smattering of noodle houses (including the new and rather embarrassing "Noodel City") and the pretty decent Vietnamese on Coldharbour Lane (thats Eastern Tree if your wondering). If your looking for a taste of India or Africa, the many restaurants along Camberwell Church Street can more than fill your appetite. And if its gastropubs your looking for, look no further than the Castle, The Bear, The Dark Horse or even The Grove.

However, one common factor amongst these restaurants and eating outlets is that they rarely appear busy. In fact, if your name is Spice of Life, its attendance appears pitiful. The only places in Camberwell who appear to be doing a roaring trade are the KFC and Caravaggios.

Caravaggios is a little Italian cafe primarily doing simple pastas complemented by a few other italian staples (such as Bruschetta and Risotto as well as a few daily specials). On the whole, there isnt much to say about this establishment. The food is pretty average but cheap. When I went with my family, we ordered drinks, 2 starters and 4 mains and the bill came to just over £30. My Spaghetti Carbonara was creamy and so huge, it could have fed the queue waiting for their KFC down the road. A main costs around the five pound mark and in these days of the credit crunch, you cant really argue with that. It has a decent variety of food catering to most tastes and does a half decent coffee as you would expect from an Italian establishment. People vote with their feet and this place is always buzzing with people. I havent been here for lunch but I have been told that their selection of pannini's and jacket potatos are extensive and filling.

Caravaggio on Urbanspoon

Why the ram?

Thats the year I was born in.

Who and Why

I am a chinaman. Well, thats a pretty uncomplicated label and at first glance, that may be exactly what you see. In earnest, what you see is certainly not what you get from me. I was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and learnt German and English in my youth. Both my parents are from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and are of Chinese descent (Hokkien to be precise). They have brought me up with the same values as they would have done in their own country.

I grew up with a passion for meat (the Germans eat a lot of meat) and all things oriental (my mum and dad are both great cooks) although I have a great interest in food in general. When I was 8, my family emigrated to the UK so that their kids would get a better education and I have spent the rest of my formative life here. Having a base in Surrey, studying in West Sussex, going to university in Central London and living in South London (Camberwell to be precise), you can imagine the amount of influences that this has had on me over the thirty or so years that I have been on this planet.

So that brings me to why. Well, I am under no illusions that people out there may not be interested in what I have to say or what I do. This blog is for me and for me to record some of the things that I get upto. You see, I have quite recently had a rather important operation. For the last 18 years, I have been suffering from kidney related problems and have had to be on dialysis for the last 7 or so years. Hopefully, those days are behind me for now as I recover from a kidney transplant. This operation has given me a new lease of life and I fully intend on making the most of the free time I now have as I no longer have my dialysis commitments.

Hopefully this blog will be filled with all the thrilling things I get upto and you enjoy my ramblings!