Sunday, May 31, 2009

Eat Indian: Tayyabs, Whitechapel

The time had finally come. After a while waiting to go and after reading numerous food blogs about how great it was, the day had finally arrived. I finally made it to Tayyabs.

Tayyab's is a Pakistani restaurant located just east of Aldgate, at the bottom end of Brick Lane. I would love to claim that this is one of London’s hidden gems but its reputation proceeds and if you ask almost anybody about where a good curry house is, if they know anything about food, this place isn’t often far off the end off their tongue.

Anyway, enough of all the vacillating, all you really want to know was if this place was any good. On arrival, our table wasn’t ready but even at 7.30 on a Wednesday night (incidentally when the Champions League Final was on) a queue was forming to get a table.

As there were 8 in my party, we pretty much got away with ordering a bit of everything. The ordering itself was a bit manic. The waiter came over and pretty much ordered for us but I don’t think anybody was really complaining.

First up was the mixed grill. This was made up of some seek kebabs, some chicken tikka and probably the most amazing lamb chops I have ever had. These bits of meat were little pieces of charcoal licked heaven. Excellent spicing on the lamb chops had me chewing the bones.

To follow, a bunch of curry turned up. We had lamb curry, chicken Tikka Masala, Tarka Dal, some okra and saag aloo. As you can see from the pics, these were not as oily as you would expect from your local takeaway, but this is not your ordinary takeaway. In general, everything was good. The curries had a really nice thick sauce, not the watery drivel you normally find. The veggie dishes still had plenty of bite to them and you could taste the vegetables. Nan bread wasn’t like any other nan I had eaten before. They were delicious, thin and crispy. The rice was a bit watery and poor but I think we can let that one go.

I had a lovely time here. The food was very good and I will be dreaming about those lamb chops for a long time to come. Service may not have been fantastic but is no worse than you would expect from any high street restaurant. Biggest surprise of the evening, the bill. It came to just over a tenner a head and considering the amount of food we ate, this was an absolute steal. Great value, great food and even the dogs outside hadn’t left a scrap on the bones they were chewing.

83-89 Fieldgate St.
London E1 1JU

New Tayyab on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Eat Chinese: Mandarin Kitchen, Queensway

I have lived in the UK now for nearly 23 years. That's a pretty long time but what’s probably even more astonishing is that my family and I have been visiting the same restaurant consistently over those last 23 years. That restaurant is the Mandarin Kitchen.

As you probably know already, my cousin is over from the States and she loves Mandarin Kitchen. After all, she is from New York and they can’t get any decent Chinese food over there (!). So, after a day watching my beloved Surrey triumph over Middlesex in the 20/20 cup, dinner was arranged.

One thing about going to the same place for many many years is that you get acquainted with the staff. There's nothing nicer than waltzing into a restaurant and being treated like you are about to sit down at your own dining table. Although this place holds a lot of nostalgia for me and my family, it’s pretty grotty. Having gone through one refurbishment to my memory, its toilets are renowned for being pretty nasty.

Either way, we are here for the food. First up is a plate of jellyfish (basically tastes like chewing rubber bands with a hint of sesame in my opinion), deep fried chilli and pepper baby squid and half an aromatic duck. The squid is definitely a family favourite and is very competently cooked. It’s still tender with a light and crispy batter, with great flavourings of chilli and garlic. A definite crowd pleaser.

The duck here is pretty much how it should be, crispy and tasty bits of skin complementing juicy chunks of flesh wrapped in a steamed pancake with spring onions and cucumber (no hoi sin sauce for me). Wasn't fantastic on this particular occasion but is often good enough to blow my socks off.

Next up, something that it’s famous for, Lobster Noodles. Rumour has it that Mandarin Kitchen goes through more lobsters than any other restaurant in London, and this really comes as no surprise to me. As dear as they are, nearly every table had a plate of Lobster Noodles adorning it! I’m not the biggest fan of lobster (or seafood in general) but am quite happy to tuck into the ginger and spring onion noodles bathing in the gravy of the lobster. A nice if slightly overrated dish.

After this, it’s pretty hard to follow up with mains, but Mandarin Kitchen has a very competent kitchen and churns out a whole array of very appetising dishes. This time round, we had some chicken with dried chilli and onion and some tofu to go with my dad’s salt fish fried rice and greens of some description. I was experiencing quite a food hangover at this stage but managed to have a few pieces of the delicious chicken and some tofu, which is a feat in itself.

Mandarin Kitchen is never going to aspire to Michelin standards (it needs to sort its toilet out for starters) but does very competent Chinese food. In Queensway and Bayswater you are spoiled for choice when it comes to oriental eateries, but for some reason, my parents keep coming to this one. The BBC is coming to the end of this series of the "Great British Menu" where they are looking to give the returning troops a "taste of home". If it was up to me, I would love somebody to knock me up a plate of squid and some duck!

Mandarin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Eat Modern European : Marcus Wareing, The Berkeley

It's been a little while since my last post, not owing to laziness for once, but actually due to the fact that I really haven't done anything report worthy. There was a boat party (stationary) in aid of the NSPCC and a few parties in between, but frankly, these consisted mostly of slightly inebriated misbehaviour.

However, this week is going to be a gourmet extravaganza. Today I bring you Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, which will closely be followed by Mandarin Kitchen, Tayyab's, The Wolseley and Pearl Liang to round things off. I intend on starving myself for the day's in-between!

I waltzed into the Berkeley and I must admit, first impressions were not great. It just felt a bit sterile and when I asked where the restaurant was, I basically got quite lost. After a few retracing of steps, I found myself in the main dining area where I immediately felt a little more at ease. The staff were polite and attentive (as you would expect) and brought me to my table in a quiet corner of the claret and brown bedecked dining room.

As I sat down, I was offered some aperitifs but I politely declined. It was a full 12 minutes later until somebody thought it might be a good idea to bring me a menu. This was thankfully the only glitch in an otherwise seamless service.

Having settled on the £35 set lunch menu, I sat back and waited for the show to start. Now, I am going to approach this slightly differently. As I have no pictures (the Maître'd instructed me that photography is strictly forbidden) I will have to try and describe each dish with words (this is going to be a tall order!). Any pictures you do see of the food are courtesy of Kang who runs a rather fine food blog, go check it out. Cheers Kang!

Right, here we go:

Canapés: Foie Gras Puff Pastry Triangles and Hummus with crisp toasts
Just to get the taste buds going whilst I perused the menu. I'm not a massive Foie Gras fan but these delicate little triangles were subtle and delicious. The hummus was nice, although the toasts were a little on the salty side. Can't complain though, these were nice enough.

Amuse Bouche: Sweetcorn Veloute with Tarragon Foam
Served in a tall shot glass, I was instructed to sip "like I would an espresso". The herby head of foam combined nicely with the sweet subtle taste of the warm sweetcorn veloute. It slid down a treat and was light and fresh. Bring on the first proper course!

Starter: Quail, Foie Gras and Pork Knuckle Ravioli with Black Potato Tea
I'm not a big fan of any of the main ingredients but that's the reason I come to places like this, for them to challenge my perception of food. It was very attractive when it arrived with the ravioli atop a bed of onions (?), supplanted by a rather cheffy green swirl and little white bits. Now, I know that doesn't really mean much, but upon tasting, I couldn't make out what either the green swirl or white bits were. Disappointing and seemingly unnecessary. However, the ravioli was lovely. The pasta was perfectly made and cooked, with just a little give. The filling was quite dense but the flavours married up well. I was expecting the pork to be quite overpowering but complimented the quail with the foie gras adding a slight creaminess to the dish. Very nice.

Main: 24Hr Slow Cooked Pork Belly with a Marcona almond puree, medley of courgettes
I love pork belly. I love it even more when it just falls apart with some gentle persuasion. The pork was delicious and highly unctuous. I had to stop myself from wolfing it down. The accompaniments were slightly disappointing. Although the almond puree was an interesting touch and went with the creaminess of the pork, the crackling (not as crispy as I had hoped and erring on the chewy side) and the courgettes (just not my favourite vegetable) were slightly lacking.

Palate Cleanser: Passion fruit Jelly with a Lemon mousse and Vodka and Lychee Sorbet
Absolutely delicious. Served in a single shot glass, it was a shame it wasn't a bit bigger. The slightly tart passion fruit was broken up with the sweeter lemon mousse and topped off with the zingingly fresh Lychee sorbet. It said there was vodka, I couldn't taste any and, TBH, if it was there, I don't think it would have added anything.

Dessert: Egg Custard Tart with Cranberry Jelly and Strawberry Swirl Ice Cream
Now this is the dessert that Marcus Wareing has become famous for. Served to the Queen during her birthday meal, courtesy of the Great British Menu, it really has quite a reputation to live up to. Arriving in front of me, it really is a picture. A perfectly asymmetrical slice of custard tart with a fine sprinkling of nutmeg, small cubes of cranberry jelly, placed with precision alongside the tart and a perfect quenelle of ice cream, half strawberry and half cream. I dove in. And was pretty disappointed. Now don't get me wrong, this was a nice tart, the flavours were good. But when it arrived in front of me, it was warm and yieldingly soft. Too soft, I don't think it had set properly. It literally disintegrated and could do with a few hours chilling. The rest of the dessert was very nice however, especially the ice cream which tasted reassuringly of strawberries and cream.

So that was that. A lovely, if not mind blowing meal. As I reflected on my rather worrying ever increasing belly, the Maître'd came over and wondered if I wanted to have a look around the kitchen. He must have seen me scribbling notes and mistaken me for someone important, but I really couldn't say no. So in I went and observed the team at work, all 20 of them. The brigade was quietly slick and efficient with the man himself marshalling them at the pass. I must admit, it was refreshing to see the chef actually cooking in his own restaurant!

All in all, even if the meal itself didn't quite set off fireworks, the whole experience was totally enjoyable. For a meal costing just over £40 all in, I thought it was good value and I will come again. Well, once I have got through all the other restaurants on my ever increasing list.

Next stop - Mandarin Kitchen...

Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley
Wilton Place
London. SW1X 7RL

Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Eat Modern European : The Ledbury, Notting Hill

Bank Holiday Mondays have become a great opportunity to eat well. If it were up to me, I would go to nice restaurants every day of the week, but the fact of the matter is, I can't afford it. Eating well costs serious dineiro's but there are ways of dining at London's best without spending a king's ransom.

The lunch menus may not be the gastronomical journeys that many foodies crave, but are often very affordable and are a great example of what the kitchens are capable of. Therefore, I vowed to take every one of these opportunities and that is why I found myself at the Ledbury on May Bank Holiday.

Dining with me was my old buddy Ed and sister no 2 who was predictably late. As we sat at our table, waiting for her to turn up, we were starting to get jealous as all those around us were being served delicious looking bread and amuse bouche. When she finally did turn up, it was time to rock and roll.

After a few rolls of that freshly in house baked bread (the bacon brioche in particular) our "amuse" of some thinly spread foie gras arrived. Smooth and slightly spiced, it was just enough to get the taste buds going. Those decently priced lunch menu's I've been going on about, a mere £25 for three 1 Michelin starred courses. We all went for the Lunch menu, a complete no-brainer.

To start I went for the celeriac and wild boar. I don't think I can use enough words to describe what was going on in this dish. There was the smooth truffle mayonnaise, slightly salty celeriac, the crisp and porky wild boar kromeski and a texture shift with the bits of egg and hazelnuts. A real delight to the senses.

For my main, I opted for the slow cooked lamb. As you would expect from any 24 hour cooked meat, the lamb just fell apart. No need for the knife. The meat was smooth and tender and had bags of that beautiful lamby taste. The truffle mash was a good accompaniment but was a little on the rich side.

Finally, dessert, a passion fruit soufflé. The soufflé was a picture. It had risen beautifully and on arrival, had a scoop of Sauternes ice cream forcibly inserted into the middle. This again was smooth and light. The passion fruit was slightly acidic and tart but was complemented by the sweet and creamy Sauternes ice cream. A lovely end to a great meal.

Service? Up and down. Some of the time, it felt like we were being totally ignored whilst during the other times, the service felt slightly overbearing. I think at one stage, 3 different waiters filled my water within a 5 minute window. On the whole though, it was also really good. Our waiter even brought over my sister a complementary dessert, as in his words, "the chef didn't want her to feel left out".

When the bill came, it was accompanied by a delightful assortment of Petit Fours. Sweet and dainty, just small enough that we didn't ignore them after such a grand meal. The total bill was very reasonable (if you exclude the wine) and was great value for money.

So, in conclusion, it was probably one of the best meals I have had in a long time. If not ever. In my eyes, my culinary adventure has only really just begun but if my next stops on this journey are as good as this one, it will be a very happy one. Not long to go until the next Bank Holiday!

The Ledbury
127 Ledbury Road,
Notting Hill, London
W11 2AQ

Ledbury on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 4, 2009

Ryvita Crackers

I've never been much of a fan of Ryvita, all sounds a bit too much like health food. Dry and flavourless were my automatic reactions. My flatmate used to love them and live off them, but I can't say I was too enamoured with the idea.

A couple of weeks ago, Ryvita asked to send me a package, which unfortunately arrived the day after I left for a two week holiday. The cheese sat on my desk for the duration, and although it tried to last, I didn't want to risk. I did however try the black pepper crackers that came with the cheese and I am pleased that they greatly exceeded the Ryvita stereotype I had in my head. A good foil for a lump of cheese, with a slight pepperiness. A nice alternative from other more traditional crackers.

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

May Day Weekend

For me, Bank Holidays are all about resting and relaxing. I have had a busy week. Working and playing hard has had it's toll on me and its about time I took some time to step back and let the old body recover a bit.

So, first port of call, Oval farmers market. This little gem is located in St Mark's church, opposite from Oval station, and comprises of a few locals and their produce. With stalls containing meat, fish and all sorts of veg and pastry goodness. Fantastic it was not but a nice thing to have on your doorstep.

Sunday saw me going on a walk round London with my old friend and his very heavily pregnant wife. Imagine my surprise when we were bombarded with hundreds upon hundreds of nuns! Apparently they were doing a fun run for Barnardo's. Anyway, the weather was nice and it was nice just to trundle around an area where it's normally packed full of commuters. Thankfully, no babies were delivered during the walk.

Tomorrow, the last day of the Bank Holiday, brings me to the Ledbury. Heard lots of good things about this place through the food blog grapevine and I am looking forward to my meal. No doubt, every mouth will be reported at a later date. Spater dudes!