Monday, August 31, 2009

No food, just drink. Dirty Martini in Covent Garden

This blog is predominantly focused on food, but I am determined to diversify it a bit and appeal to a wider audience, so how about a few words on a cocktail bar?

Located in the heart of Covent Garden, and occupying the former premises of the Retoxbar you will find Dirty Martini. A cosy cocktail bar, they have a variety of cocktails on offer, but with a clear focus on martini's. Filled with smoked salmon from @eatlikeagirl's stand at the Covent Garden Food Fair, I headed on down to this basement bar and met a few friends.

The bar was rammed, people probably attracted by happy hour where martini's can be purchased at half price, for a mere four of your English pounds. I was swiftly warmed by my friends that I needed to block order. "Why so?" I asked. "Cos the barmen are bloody slow" was the rather curt reply.

And she was right, half an hour at the bar before the barmen finally got round to serving me and another 10 to make the damn things. This is definitely by far and away the worst thing about this bar. They just simply couldn't cope. That having been said, the barmen clearly put a lot of energy into their cocktails and the end product was of actually a fairly high standard.

Japanese Martini
Japanese Martini @ Dirty Martini
Wokka Saki shaken with fresh watermelon and fresh apple juice and twist of lychee liquor. Refreshing and reassuringly strong, sweetened by the apple juice and nice subtle undertones of lychee, one of my favourite fruits. Came with a lemongrass swizzle stick. Note to self, do not chew lemongrass.

Cherry Blossom and Espresso Martini
Cherry Blossom and Espresso @ Dirty Martini
Cherry Blossom: Belvedere Pomerancza Vodka, shaken
with fresh raspberries, lemon juice, syrup de gomme & a dash of Maraschino Cherry
Liqueur. Not the biggest fan. Quite sour and not enough cherry flavour. Note to self, flower is just for garnish, not for consumption.
Espresso: Finlandia Vodka, butterscotch schnapps & Tia Maria, shaken with espresso. A coffee with a kick and my favourite of the night. Didn't eat the coffee beans, learnt my lesson by now.

Lychee Martini
Lychee Martini @ Dirty Martini
Millers Gin shaken with Kwai Feh Lychee liqueur, lychee juice & garnished with a lychee. It had to be done. After the Japanese martini, I had a serious taste for lychee. Sweet, strong and lovely. Thought about eating the lychee and devoured it when nobody was looking.

Dirty Martini is a great little bar if it wasn't for such slow service. Having said that, it did start emptying out a little later on, even though the happy hour was still in full flow (it ends at 9). Definitely check it out if you are in the area and you need to satisfy your alcoholic cravings.

Dirty Martini (Website), 11/12 Russell Street, Covent Garden, WC2B 5HZ

Dirty Martini on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A tale of two Zeitgeist's, from Lambeth to Kennington

I'm a strange mix I am. One major part of the fact that I am a "rather unusual chinaman" is the fact that I was born in Frankfurt, Germany. My parents, two non-German speaking Chinese Malaysians took the crazy notion that moving to Germany, starting a business and raising kids would be a good idea. That said, my parents made a good fist of it, with my fathers tropical fish industry doing well and my family accepted by some of the kindest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

And the food. Even as an eight year old, I had a mighty appetite and being in Germany, much of this revolved around all things meat. In fact, one of my fondest memories as a child was our morning ritual. First we would go to the bäckerei for our breakfast bread rolls. And then we would go next door to the metzgerei, essentially a German deli, where we would be given slivers of all the sausages to taste before choosing which ones we wanted to have with our rolls. I always knew which one I wanted, but could never resist snaffling as many freebies as I could. Even at 8 I was a foodblagger.

Outside @ Zeitgeist

20 odd years later, I find myself in London, and to cut a long story short, the sausages here just aren't the same. Nothing beats a bratwurst. Or a good gelbwurst. Or even slices of bierwurst. I had been yearning for some good honest German tucker when I noticed the Zeitgeist lunch box (an offshoot of the Zeitgeist pub), a small, unassuming shop displaying its wares in the window. MEAT. And lots of it.

Meat Feast @ Zeitgeist

It had everything. Salt Beef, Leberkäse, Wurst and Schweinebraten to name a few. They even had German potato salad and gherkins. And best of all, proper German mustard, lighter and smoother than the English version. On my last visit, I opted for their lunch deal, choose anything that will fit into a box with a drink for a fiver.

Schweinebraten und Kartoffeln @ Zeitgeist

Wow, this really brought me back. The potatoes, whilst very greasy, were interwoven with strands of sweet onion and salty flecks of ham. Some parts of the potatoes had crispier bits where it had been cooked a little longer, all adding to the difference in textures. I had a bit of roast pork with this and this was also outstanding. Tender pieces of pork speckled with peppercorns, all finished off with a squeeze of that mustard. Easily a fiver of anybodies money.

After this meal, I was due to meet Mr Ed and I thought I would go for the full house and chose to visit the Zeitgeist at the Jolly Gardener. The main outlet and claiming to be a German gastropub. The pub itself is very nice, but my day went from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The menu contains all the usual suspects, but what I really wanted was the Wiener schnitzel. A breaded pork cutlet, deep fried and smothered in a creamy mushroom sauce. Frankly, this was ok. But really no better than that. I was hoping for some serious German tucker, so good I would regress to the good old days.

Jäger Schnitzel and Creamy Mushrooom Sauce @ Zeitgeist

Regress? I nearly fell asleep. The schnitzel was nigh on tasteless, although, to its credit, grease free. The mushroom sauce was strangely sweet and again lacked flavour. I had to restrain myself from dumping a whole load of salt all over it. And don't get me started about the "side salad". A few brown leaves of iceberg lettuce, two bits of cucumber and tomato, combined with the most putrid dressing I have ever tasted. It was as if the chef had used cooking oil, run out of vinegar, so substituted it with water and then let his hand slip when adding the sugar. Ghastly.

The evening meal was a disaster in my eyes. Even hovering around the £10 mark, this was a total waste of money. It was nice catching up with Mr Ed, but I don't think I will be coming here again. In the future, I think I will stick to the Lunch Box.

Zeitgeist Lunchbox - 141 Westminster Bridge Road,SE1 7HR

Zeitgeist Lunchbox on Urbanspoon

Zeitgeist @ The Jolly Gardeners - 49-51 Black Prince Rd,SE11 6AB

Zeitgeist on Urbanspoon

Website for both

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sustenance on the Southbank, Benugo Bar and Kitchen

Southbank, one of the best places in London to wander. Packed to the brim with a great diversity of people, I don't believe that there is a nicer place to be on a balmy and bright summer's evening.

Dotted all the way down at intermittent intervals are places to eat of various shapes and sizes. From chains to upper end dining, you can find them all within spitting distance of each other. Having already visited the Skylon Grill on a previous visit, I decided to try out Benugo Bar and Kitchen within the confines of the BFI.

I was meeting the curiously named Mountain Goat. This particular breed threw in his well paid job at very well know company (forgoing free food, and probably more importantly, free cake) to climb mountains for a living. As far as I am aware, he hasn't been classified insane. Yet.

Inside @ BBK

Anyway, we met, we chatted and we scampered around a bit looking for this well hidden place, which incidentally is actually located slap bang inside the BFI. Benugo Bar and Kitchen is an offshoot of the Benugo clan of coffee and sandwich shops. On entering this lofty space, this place clearly had no intentions of being a coffee bar, with furnishings closer to that of an upmarket All Bar one and a rather resplendent bar situated at the back. We headed over to the restaurant on the right hand side of the room and were given our menu's. So far so good.

Bread @ BBKWatermelon Martini @ BBK

Benugo B&K prides itself on its British classics and the food appears firmly routed within these loose restrictions. I decided to order a Watermelon Martini (start as you mean to go on) as some above average bread was brought over, accompanied by some rather bland butter. The martini was crisp and reassuringly strong, although the overall taste of watermelon was somewhat lacking.

Lamb Chops, mash and mint pesto @ BBK

For me, I ordered the lamb chops with garlic mash and mint pesto. The lamb chops were very nicely cooked, with the pre-requisite grill lines. It must have hit the grill at quite some temperature as the fat had begun to crisp up whilst to middle remained pink and moist. The mash was ok, not that much garlic flavour really coming through, and I never seem to understand why so much mash is normally piled on the plate. If its really rich, you don't need the mounds of starchiness, although if it was that rich, you would probably polish it off anyway and make you feel ill. Lastly, and probably the most confusing for me, was the mint pesto. It really didn't have that much of a mint kick, but the dominating flavour was the cheese (parmesan I assume), used in the making of the pesto. A rather more restrained use of said cheese would really have helped the dish along, instead, it totally dominated all the flavours.

Chicken, Bacon and Mushroom Pie@ BBK

The goat went for the Chicken, ham and mushroom pie, with the only proviso being that I was allowed a taste. My mouthful was a little strange, dominated by something sweet. I wasn't sure where this sweetness was coming from, but the mountain goat assured me that my taste buds were playing tricks on me as he silently but stealthily devoured his pie.

Benugo B&K is a good value but ultimately average restaurant. I think the cooking is above average but the flavourings of the dishes definitely need work, judging on this experience. Prices are competitive with mains starting under a tenner and not more than £15. Once the bill was settled, awaiting the final musketeer, we toddled off in search of beer surveying a frankly startling London skyline.

Amazing sky over London

Benugo (Website), BFI Southbank, Waterloo

Benugo on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Camberwell's Finest, FM Mangal

Camberwell isn't notorious for being the culinary capital of London, let alone South London, and probably not even Southwark! However, I have lived in the area for a while and it astounds me as to the variety of food you can get here. We have Italian, Greek, African, Caribbean, Indian and Chinese restaurants as well as having numerous pubs serving pretty good grub and before I forget, need to mention the chippies and kebab shops! The latest addition to the neighbourhood is FM Mangal, which as it's name suggests is a Turkish ocakbasi (an open charcoal grill).

Located on the site of an old African members club, it's conveniently located in the middle of Camberwell Church street, and the smell of the grilling meat can be smelt all the way down the road. Quite some sphere of influence.

Apple Tea @ FM Mangal

I'm a huge fan of their takeaways. Every time I pop in, they welcome you like an old friend and try to ply you with tea and Turkish delight. After multiple visits, I thought I better do a quick write up of it. Turning down the Turkish delight (not my thing at all) I accepted the offer of some apple tea and sat opposite the coals to wait for my food.

Adana/Kofte @ FM Mangal
Side Salad @ FM Mangal

The takeaway box deal is amazing value. For £5.50, you get two Adana kebab with grilled chillies and tomatoes, a side salad and a heap of Turkish flat bread. The Adana kebab are long strips of lamb flecked with herbs and chilli peppers wrapped around skewers and grilled over those coals. What we get is a taste sensation, the char on the outside containing succulent, smoky lamb. The bread is cooked on top of the meat so that it retains some of the juices whilst cooking and is sprinkled with a dash of paprika. The salad on the side is quite substantial and is stuffed with cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, herbs and all sorts of other veggie goodness, all doused in a vinaigrette. And I can't forget the chilli sauce, containing just the right amount of heat, infinitely superior in comparison to the tomatoey mess you usually find in your high street kebab shop.

I love FM Mangal, it takes a large amount of willpower for me not to pop in every night. I haven't actually been in to eat yet, but no doubt this will happen soon enough. Here's to Camberwell getting one step closer to becoming that culinary capital.

FM Mangal, 54 Camberwell Church Street, Camberwell, SE5 8QZ

FM Mangal on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Aperitweat 3.0

Aperitweat is a twitter meet up with a difference. Originating from Italy, aperitivo is essentially pre-dinner drinks with a few nibbles, designed to open up the palate. So was born Aperitweat, an opportunity for tweeple to meet in real life and enjoy a few drinks and nibbles. Previously based at Al Volo in the heart of Brick Lane, for 3.0 we relocated to the South Bank and a wine bar called Viva Verdi.

At the core of this lies a small group of devoted organisers. What do they get out of this? I am not sure other than a sense of satisfaction. With Aperitivo being fundamentally Italian, it's no surprise that a fair few of the organisers are too. Hats off to @gioias & @palmamod as well as dash of Irish in @niamhhughes.

So you can't have Aperitivo without food. And there was plenty. There were bowls of pasta salad, lots of little balls of mozzarella on cocktail sticks, mini sandwiches containing various types of ham (my favourite being the mortadella), lots of cheese (including huge hunks of parmesan) and little bruschetta things.

Aperitweat 3.0
Aperitweat 3.0

Really descriptive aren't I? Well, the event in my eyes wasn't about the food. It was about meeting people and tonight, it was also about raising awareness for endometriosis, a chronic debilitating condition affecting around 2 million women in the UK. The evening was informative, fun and any money raised through the raffle was going to a good cause too.

Aperitweat 3.0

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable night. I got to meet more people that I talk to over twitter and even bumped into a few who aren't. Some I had even originally first met in real life. Crazy, I know. Even though one of the co-founders is heading to the Big Apple, I'm sure that these events will carry on. Anything that brings people together has got to be a good thing, right?

Monday, August 17, 2009

I set out for Dim Sum and ended up with Burger, Haché in Camden

Outside @ Haché

Its Saturday and I am hungry, after all, all I have eaten in the last 24 hours is a banana, a satsuma and a packet of sour cream and onion crisps. Destination is Goldfish, a chinese restaurant in Hampstead which promises an unlimited Dim Sum buffet. Too good to be true?

Arriving at Goldfish, its still quite early and the place is empty. I found it slightly disheartening that Ping Pong next door was already filling up. The waitress gives me the menu but as I am dining alone, I'm not allowed to have the buffet. Err, ok then, I will order off the menu. She passes me the dim sum menu, only for another waitress to come over and snatch it off me, telling me that they don't serve a la carte dim sum at the weekend. Alright, I've had enough, I'm outta here.

What ensues next is what I can only call " a bit of an adventure". A few buses and a bit of walking around later (god bless maps on iphone), I end up in Camden heading for Haché.

Inside @ Haché

Haché has a fearsome reputation on the London burger scene. I had never been and its about time I tried their chopped as opposed to minced beef burgers. The inside is quite dark and the dining room is much smaller than I thought it would be and its no surprise that it was pretty full by 1pm.

Fruits of the Forest Smoothie @ Haché

To drink, I ordered a Fruits of the Forest smoothie, a bit steep at £3.65 but very refreshing, with subtle honey undertones and a slight sourness from the yoghurt.

Classique Anglais @ Haché

My chosen burger was the "Classique Anglais" with extra bacon and a side of french fries. Not sure whats that english about my burger, but the mushrooms and onions arrived piled high. The burger in front of me really is a thing of beauty. Deconstructing it bit by bit, the burger is pink in the middle but feels a little overdone. However, the taste is fantastic. Well seasoned, deeply beefy and full of flavour. The bun, often a bum note on many burgers, is soft and untoasted but is strong enough to hold the mountain of filling. Bacon was definitely overkill. Unneccesary and made the whole burger a bit salty. I took it out, but not wanting to waste it, I used a bit of the bun and formed a mini bacon sarnie. The french fries were a bit rubbish, to be honest. They were overdone and far too salty. Disappointing.

Was this the best burger I have ever had? No, not by a long way but it was very good and I would definitely put it into the "value for money" bracket. There is so much that is right about this place, but on the other hand, there is plenty which is quite wrong. It still has quite a way to go to meet the standards set by the New York burger joints (my favourite being JG Melon).

Is it the best burger in London? Personally, I wouldn't agree with that either. I much prefer Byron's brighter restaurants, simple approach and because it has an Oreo milkshake with a toasted and melted marshmallow milkshake in the works. I really can't wait!

Haché Camden, 24 Inverness Street, Camden, NW1 7HJ

Hache Burgers on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 14, 2009

New Tastes - 8th to 14th August

I'm a relatively fussy eater. Always have been and always will be. Up until 6 months ago, I had led a relatively sheltered life, gastronomically. All sorts of things disagreed with me. There was a time not so long ago when tomatoes, avocados, prawns and any form of fish was a total no go area. Luckily times have moved on since then, but only very slowly.

However, I made it my mission to at least make an effort to try everything once. So on occasions, I am going to post new things I have eaten and my opinions on them. Edition 1 has landed:

Suku Laku

("borrowed" from Catty)

Encountered in the goodie bag that Catty gave me. Essentially, its filled liquorice. Filled with what I hear you say? I'm not too sure, I can't read Finnish but my guess is a sort of chocolatey/malty combination. And lovely it was too. I dislike liquorice, but this worked. Nice and definitely have again.

Raw Meat

("borrowed" from Foodbymark)

I never order steak tartare. The thought sickens me, to be honest. And the fact that you mix in a raw egg yolk with it too. No thank you.

What you can see above is essentially a korean version of a steak tartare. Called yook hwei, it is seasoned raw beef with sliced pears. For me, it was an interesting and challenging combination but I gave it a go. The beef was chilled and icy, and doused in a sesame dressing. The sesame overpowered the flavour of the beef but combined with the sweet pears, it was a real fandango of textures and flavours. All right, but wouldn't eat a whole one.

Ox Tongue

("borrowed" from Londoneater)

Hmm, tongue. Another new introduction for me at the Korean BBQ at Koba. A slightly tougher and stringier meat in my eyes, it definitely has quite a unique taste, which is far from unpleasant. I would say it definitely has a deeper, meatier, more developed flavour than your regular cut of beef. Would I have it again? Definitely, although I wouldn't say it would be the first thing I would choose.

Smoked Salmon

Frank Hederman's Smoked Salmon

Smoked salmon. Yeeurgh! Slimy, fishy and frankly disgusting. These have been my thoughts on the issue for pretty much every single one of my years on this planet. It was going to take something special to change my mind.

And then it happened. Covent Garden has been holding a "Real" food fair every Thursday from April, where a decent amount of stalls are set up and selling food of all sorts of shapes and sizes. This particular Thursday saw Niamh (aka @eatlikeagirl) set up stall and sell some smoked salmon sourced from Frank Hederman back in her homeland of Ireland, accompanied with home baked soda bread, pickled cucumbers and Irish butter. I never thought it would happen, but this smoked salmon really opened my eyes. It was incredibly meaty and didn't have that fishy smell I normally associate with smoked salmon. The flavour had subtle hints of smokiness, as you would suspect, but nothing overpowering. It was smooth as opposed to slimy and the bread and pickles were the perfect accompaniment. A total triumph. For more info, please read Niamh's post right here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Food Blogger Overload! The BPR Summit and Tweatup No. 2 at Koba

Twitter. Without this, I would probably never have met the people I have over the last 3 days. I've been on Twitter since the early days, a semi early adopter. I signed up, I tweeted and then I stopped. Its not until the last 7 or 8 months that I have really started using it more frequently, and it was through this medium that I started to (virtually) meet others with the same interests as me, one of which happens to be all things food.

This merry path led me to the Bloggers PR summit, held at the Rubens Hotel and organised by @timhayward (Guardians Word of Mouth) and @spoonhq (Sarah Canet of Spoon PR). The aim was simple, help PR to understand bloggers and vice versa. I think its understood that both parties have a lot to gain from a good two-way relationship, and that at the moment, this relationship is very much in its infancy.

I'm not going to bother going into too much detail about this as there have been some very good write ups about this meeting already, notably the WoM piece and the write-ups on with knife and fork and Silverbrow on Food. What I will say is that the conversation appeared fruitful and definitely quite informative from a bloggers point of view with regards to the work of the PR. I do, however, feel that quite a few of the PR's in the room seemed to miss the point. The questions they asked and suggestions proposed were very much focused on things the bloggers could do to make their lives easier. I think many failed to realise that for us bloggers, blogging is about indulging an interest as opposed to a job. It was disappointing to think that many PR's had turned up just to see what they could get out of the bloggers, and they were conspicuous by their absence from the pub afterwards. I actually felt that many of the more constructive conversations between PR and bloggers were held in the pub as opposed to the actual summit. Special mention goes out to two PR's who I spoke to, Nancy from Selfridges and Kate from Paul A. Young, who made their way over to the pub and braved the lions den.

Debate aside, the pub was a scary place for me. Being a relative newbie in the blogging world, I was in a room with many people who I had been chatting to over Twitter, and reading their blogs on an almost daily basis. Many were already acquainted with each other but I took the plunge and introduced myself.

Twitter is such a strange beast. I hadn't met any of these people before but knew loads about them already by conversing over twitter, discussing matters such as egg tarts, what we used to eat as children, steak and so on. This made conversation a pleasure as opposed to a chore and the night was over almost as soon as it had started. Special mentions go out to @chrispople, @gingergourmand, @foodstories, @hollowlegs, @oliverthring, @eatlikeagirl, @essexeating, @foodurchin, @eatmynels, @biggestjim and @goodshoeday. I'm sorry if I have missed anybody out, but I had a great time and it was a pleasure to meet you all.

Blimey, this post is turning out to be a lot longer than I thought.

Two days later, a group of 6 food fanatics converged on Koba, a Korean BBQ on Fitzroy street. The same butterflies applied as before. I had met @catty and @supercharz before (two fine young ladies with voracious appetites) but this time @londoneater, @foodbymark and @foodieguide were joining us.

I have to be honest, I don't remember too much about the meal itself, we were all too busy chatting. I do remember the following:

○ Catty ordering an absolute mountain of food.

○ Us subsequently running out of food so we had to order more.

○ The fiercest looking soup I had ever seen (which was delicious and very much a sheep in wolves clothing)

○ Catty providing little goodie bags containing Suku Laku, a Tim Tam, chocolate coated macadamias and nougat, mmmmmm..........

○ Me eating raw meat (Yukhwei) and ox tongue, both firsts and both surprisingly nice

○ Kang's chocolates from Belgium

○ Serious camera envy

○ One of the staff trying as hard as they could to chop Helen's finger off.

(any pics of Koba, I stole off @foodbymark, cheers mate)

Details of the meal are scant, I know, but Mark's pictures should give you a better insight into what it was all about. The meal itself was a great experience. From the spicy pickled veg (kimchi), to the lovely soups (chigae) and dumplings (mandoo), every dish hit the spot. By the time the BBQ was wheeled out, we were ready for the veritable meat feast which was about to arrive and subsequently gorged ourselves on pork belly, beef (ribs and marinated slices), chicken and squid.

Koba comes highly recommended. The food was great but the company was even better. Through something as strange as twitter, I genuinely feel like I have made some real friends. Bring on tweat up number three!

Koba, 11 Rathbone Street, W1T 1NA

Koba on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mmmmmm...grilled meat. Cyprus Mangal

One of the more recent topics of discussion in the twitterverse revolved around what smell made you feel hungry. Instigated by a certain Mr Heston Blumenthal himself (no doubt to create some strange edible candle or fashion the smell into a form of cutlery) various suggestions were bandied around. These included the smell of frying onions, freshly baked bread and cooked bacon amongst many others. However, one of the more popular choices appears to be the smell of meat roasting (sorry to all the vegetarians out there, but its true, your missing out).

Cyprus Mangal

Fuelled by this debate, I decided to go and find my own grilled meat. I thought about trying "that fire grill" at Kazan but serious budgetary concerns held me back. Instead, on the recommendation of my old mate Gav, I headed for the Cyprus Mangal. Another good place to eat in Victoria, surely not?

And I was right, technically its not in Victoria but more towards Pimlico. I entered an almost empty and pretty tiny restaurant. Initial impressions not great but I felt the reassuring heat off the coals as I headed to my seat and soon, as that familiar smell of grilling meat wafted over, I felt that everything was going to be alright.

Hellim @ Cyprus Mangal

I ordered the mixed grill and a side of grilled halloumi (a personal but ultimately unnecessary favourite). Halloumi, was well, halloumi. Nice and salty and came in rather large chunks. Bit disappointed by the level of grilling on two of the three pieces, could have done with a bit more of a char.

Mixed Grill @ Cyprus Mangal

The mixed grill comprised of a decent bit of kofte with some cubes of chicken and lamb shish. The kofte, normally my favourite bit of meat from the mangal, was of a very good standard. Speckled with an even char from those searing hot coals, the juiciness of the lamb was sealed in, releasing their flavour only once I took my first bite. The shish were not as good. The chicken and lamb looked more like they had been licked by the coals as opposed to kissed. Personally, I like mine not only kissed by the flames, but held down and involving tongues, real evidence that the coals are hot and working their magic. The bits of lamb were also the tiniest shish I have ever seen and the chicken underseasoned. The salad was strange in that it was lacking in salad leaves. Not totally convinced.

As I left, the place had filled up and was close to bursting point. I had to barge past the poor souls waiting for a table whilst battling the heat emanating from the smouldering charcoal. Overall verdict is not bad. I still prefer my local (FM Mangal in Camberwell) but its not a bad place to fulfill that meat craving.

p.s. Please note, the "Mr Blumenthal" mentioned above was a fraud, but the sentiments are the same. What smell makes you hungry?

Cyprus Mangal, 45 Warwick Way, Pimlico, SW1V 1QS

Cyprus Mangal on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sichuan tasters at Ba Shan

I'm going to keep this one short. I witter too much. I twitter too much. I do too much of lots of things. Usually I like to build a story, but there isn't really a story with this one.

I was going to head up to Hampstead to sample the unlimited Dim Sum buffet at Goldfish. I kid you not, its amazing what you learn through twitter but I definitely think this is one of the most valuable pieces of information that this social communication medium has provided me.

However, as usual, "the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry" and after a brief message from the Big German, I was off to meet him instead. I still needed to eat and as I was going to be in the Chinatown area, I decided to tick another place off my wish list and headed for Ba Shan,

Inside @ Ba Shan

Sister of the Baozi Inn and Bar Shu (none of which I had visited), Ba Shan specialises in Sichuan food. I know nada about Sichuan food other than its spicy, likes it's dried chillies and pepper and quite distinctive in taste. I was in a hurry, so perused the menu very quickly (it is pretty extensive) and ordered a few things that sounded nice.

Jiamo with Tender Stewed Pork

Jiamo with tender stewed pork @ Ba Shan

I never knew the Chinese did Pita! Well, these are tiny flat breads filled with a spiced stewed pork, rich in those earthy Sichuan flavours, and very nice they were too. Shame that there was so little meat.

Pork ChaoShou in Broth

Pork ChaoShou in broth @ Ba Shan

Posh wanton soup. The broth was very nice, deep in umami and the chaoshou themselves had a comforting porky flavour. The only problem I had was that the skins of the dumplings weren't very well sealed and were falling apart in the broth.

Pork and Chinese Chive Guotie

Pork and Chinese Chive Guotie @ Ba Shan

Really enjoyed these. Steamed and then fried on one side, these had the same strong flavour as the chaoshou and disappeared rather quickly.

Dan Dan Noodles

Dan Dan Mian @ Ba Shan

I was on the verge of being very stuffed at this stage. I had one bite and was immediately disappointed, first impressions was that this dish was bland. Hang on, I hadn't mixed it all up. Schoolboy error. Once the noodles had been adequately mingled with the sauce beneath, there was a taste explosion. The sauce had a deep earthy and slightly aniseed flavour, mingling with some minced pork (would benefit from more) and topped off with fiery chillies. I tried stopping but couldn't, it was soon all gone.

Foodwise, I thoroughly enjoyed Ba Shan. The quality is high and the staff were friendly and efficient. It is , however, very much on the pricy side. I ordered a fair bit but eating on my own, my bill came to more than £25. Way too pricy for the area. I love the food here but I love the food down at Wong Kei's just as much. Crispy pork and rice, anyone?

Ba Shan, 24 Romilly Street, Soho, W1D 5AH

Ba Shan on Urbanspoon