Monday, February 28, 2011

I miss the trolley: Dragon Palace and Golden Pagoda

Golden Pagoda, Chinatown
Deep fried bean curd and other plates at Golden Pagoda

I remember many years ago when I first moved to London, my family went about systematically adopting Chinese restaurants. La Orient and China Chef for our local Chinese fix, Mandarin Kitchen in Bayswater for noodles and aromatic duck and New World in Chinatown. New World in particular would be visited once a fortnight so my family could satisfy their burgeoning dumplings fix, with their wares being brought round on trolleys. Being a fussy eater as a child, this was ideal. I could peruse each trolleys contents with my dad and "help" to order. I felt important, and we got our food almost as soon as we sat down at our table. I would be able to see all the different types of food pass by, and not miss anything. I used to pay close attention to the refuelling hatch, and give my dad a nudge when they started to refill the trolleys with fresh dumplings. I loved Dim Sum Sundays.

Dragon Palace, Earls Court
Delicious delicate dumplings at Dragon Palace

Cue 20 years later and the trolleys still roll at New World, but gone are the tasty and fresh dumplings, only to be replaced by claggy tourist fodder, with trolleys merely used for show. I haven't been back for over 5 years, but just like the restaurant collectors my parents once used to be, I have been seeking out the perfect dim sum location in London. At the moment, I favour Dragon Castle as my Dim Sum location of choice. It's near my home, the noodles are excellent, good value and the dim sum are fresh (as long as you get there by 1pm). But that hasn't stopped me from looking for new dim sum locations.

Dragon Palace, Earls Court
Silver tip noodles, Singapore style at Dragon Palace

Two new places I have visited lately, worthy of a mention, are Dragon Palace and Golden Pagoda. Located in Earls Court, Dragon Palace has been visited by a number of bloggers recently, although it was Su Lins post which tipped me off first. After a couple of aborted attempts, I eventually made it there one Sunday. Ordering some firm dim sum staples, as well as a few items I don't see on a dim sum menu every day, most of what we got was good. The steamed dumplings in particular were very good, packed full of flavour, and the translucent skins withstanding some clumsy chopsticking. The xiao long bau (or "soup" dumplings) were amongst the best I have tasted in London, and worthy of their own sentence.

Dragon Palace, Earls Court
Grilled Cheung Fun at Dragon Palace

Dragon Palace, Earls Court
Xiao Long Bau at Dragon Palace

New things to me included wobbly grilled sticks of cheung fun, moreish and smoky, and silver tip or "rat tail" noodles, which were slightly unconventional in their texture, but nothing that outstanding in flavour. There were a few duds in the meal, with the wu kok (yam croquettes) overcooked, dry and mostly flavourless, and the service being pretty consistently terrible. Picture asking whether you have finished by 5 different people, and telling them one by one that you were still waiting for two dishes. After the 5th person asked us, we got the idea and got the bill instead. A sad way to end an otherwise enjoyable meal.

Golden Pagoda, Chinatown

Which brings me to another new dim sum destination I visited recently, Golden Pagoda in Chinatown. It's not often I take tips from my mum, but after her colleague had suggested it, I agreed to meet my parents at Golden "Buddha". After 10 minutes of walking around, and checking out numerous restaurants called golden something, I met my parents outside of Golden Pagoda. No trolleys in here either, and I really wasn't expecting much owing to it's rather central Chinatown location.

Golden Pagoda, Chinatown
Seafood Crispy Noodles and others at Golden Pagoda

I am glad to say I was pleasantly surprised. I have grown to expect the worst of Chinatown. After all, every week, the restaurants change names, change fa├žades, nothing rarely stays constant in Chinatown, it draws in tourists, feeds them, and spits them out from whence they came. I could bore you to death about the history of Chinatown (I wrote my dissertation on it), but I won't, I will just leave you with the fact that Golden Pagoda is very good. The fried goods were relatively greaseless, the dumplings were steaming hot and packed full of pork, prawn and scallops, and noodles crisp and moreish. Even the service was attentive and efficient, unheard of in most Chinatown restaurants.

Tai Pan restaurant, East Doncaster
A trolley packed with delicious stuff (in Melbourne, not London unfortunately)

So there you go, after years of trying to find good and affordable dim sum in London, I stumble across two places I would happily visit again within two weeks of each other. You would struggle to spend more than £15 a head in either, and obviously, the more people you go with, the more stuff you can eat and the cheaper it will inevitably turn out. Having said all this, I am not sure if I will make the pilgrimage to Earls Court or head up to Chinatown for my regular Dim Sum fix. Dragon Castle is close, and if you head there before 1pm when the crowds really start to pick up, the food is fresh(er) and tastes great. The only thing that would make it better, trolleys I tell you. Trolleys.

Dragon Palace7 Earls Court Rd, London SW5 9AN
Dragon Palace on Urbanspoon

Golden Pagoda15A Gerrard Street,Chinatown, London W1D 6JD
Golden Pagoda Chinese on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Antepliler, Islington (abridged)

Antepliler, Islington

Antepliler, a new(ish) Turkish restaurant located right in the middle of Upper Street in Islington.

Antepliler, Islington

A couple of week backs, the inaugural #Foodaoke was launched. A group of bloggers invaded Lucky Voice in Islington and spent a good two hours belting out our favourite tunes, whilst consuming numerous gin, vodka, whatever based cocktails. By 9pm, when we were belted out of our room midst "Bohemian Rhapsody", we were hungry. Most went their seperate ways, but a hardcore group of about 6 of us headed for Antepliler.

Antepliler, Islington

What (did I eat)?
We ended up ordering a whole load of mezze, with dips and lamb and bread scattered across the table. Humus and antep dolma (cold stewed peppers and aubergines) were fresh and delicious scooped up with the puffed up freshly made breads. The hot dishes were just as good, with the borek (feta cheese, parsley and spices wrapped in a filo pastry) disappearing almost as soon as they hit the table, as well as the exemplary falafel, grease free and light. I can't forget the lahmacun either, great big Turkish "pizzas", drizzled with lemon juice, topped with salad and stuffed into your face any which way you could.

Antepliler, Islington

How (much)?
We had a lot of food, and if my memory serves me right (it was a little hazy at this stage) it all came to around £20 each. I'm pretty sure everyone enjoyed it, and I certainly know I did. Karaoke or no, I will be back.

Antepliler - 139 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 1QP

Antepliler on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A lot to live up to: Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, Knightsbridge

Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, Knightsbridge

Another day, another gushing review, this time by a certain AA Gill. His two pages in the weekends Sunday Times will no doubt have many others slobbering with anticipation, keen to get a table at Heston’s newest venture. I was no different. The minute the reservations line opened, I got my name down and was ecstatic to have chalked up a booking. My reservation was a week after it had opened, and with every day as I inched towards my reservation, reviews started leaking out, all heralding Heston and APW as the second coming. I was excited, very excited. Alongside, I was bringing the harshest critic I knew, my dad.

Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, Knightsbridge

So on the day, I got all dressed up and headed up to Knightsbridge, even arriving early enough to plonk myself at the bar, enjoy a drink and peer into the dining room. This is the first moment the doubt started to creep into my mind. The dining room is a little staid, and with my 2pm booking looming, it was beginning to empty. As I watched each person leave, it felt like little nuggets of character were leaking out of the room.

Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, Knightsbridge

When we were finally seated, the room was half empty. It's a strange sensation walking into the Dinner dining room. Indeed, there is a quite pleasant view of some grass, and a rather large open kitchen on view to the world, but the dour beige & brown interior don't add much to the rooms atmosphere. I was slightly disappointed by the initial lack of pineapples on the now famed clockwork spit, but the thing that threw me the most was how laid-back the kitchen appeared. I took this as confidence as the four of us squabbled who would eat what.

Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, Knightsbridge

To start, I settled on savoury porridge, a herby spelt risotto adorned with cod cheeks. What you get is a vivaciously green and light dish, with many flavours racing over your tongue. The salty cod cheeks were lifted by the multitude of herbs used in the porridge as well as those adorned over the top. Nuggets of beetroot added bursts of colour and flavour. It didn't make the earth move, but certainly got my appetite going, and I awaited my next course intently. There was of course the meat fruit, which with so many superlatives already applied in numerous write ups, how could it possibly live up to expectation? In all honesty, it was very good pate, with the chicken livers as smooth as I have ever tasted, and the expertly charred bread adding an additional smoky flavour. Of the other starters, I found the hay smoked mackerel a delightful combination of intriguing flavours, where the "meat and flesh" was sadly disappointing and a rather boring saffron risotto dotted with shreds of ox tail.

Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, Knightsbridge

Unfortunately I didn't fare so well with my main. The black foot pork chop should be the dish of my dreams, but what I got was a chewy, over salted pork chop, with flabby edges and nothing more than a smattering of cabbage and some sweet sauce along for the ride. I tried to enjoy it, but chew after chew, I couldn't help but think that this was one of the least intelligent £28 I had ever invested.

Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, Knightsbridge

Other mains were equally underwhelming. My fathers turbot was a mish mash of strong contrasting flavours, with the flavour of the "king of fish" totally lost. The powdered duck was better, but the Asian influenced flavours were quite ordinary. Best of all the mains was the cod in cider, which was delicious and comes highly recommended.

I really hoped the desserts, probably my favourite course in my old age, would lift the rather sombre mood, and on the whole, they were very good. Brown Bread ice cream may sound a relatively ordinary dessert, but I guess anything out of the Fat Duck stable is hardly going to be ordinary. The large scoop of ice cream was malty and rich with the bitter malted yeast syrup a pleasant contrast. A bed of crunchy bready nuggets, packed with wisps of citrus, all sitting on sweet and salty caramel. A dish packed with contrasting flavours and textures, reminding me of the invention and flavours I had hoped for.

Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, Knightsbridge

Another dessert of "rhubarb" was quite straightforward, and at £8 for a few slices of rhubarb and sorbet seemed rather dear. Chocolate bar was reminiscent of the famous Louis XV I recently tasted at Gauthier Soho, sweet, indulgent, but most of all, chocolatey. Last but not least, we had to have the Tipsy cake and pineapple, which came out a little on the sloppy side, but was still extremely pleasant.

Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, Knightsbridge

As we were brought out a white chocolate and earl grey ganache petit four, I asked my dad what he thought. He proclaimed that he had enjoyed his meal but remained restraint. Unfortunately, this wasn't really the reaction I had hoped for, but I understand where he was coming from. The food on the whole was good but there were inconsistencies throughout the meal, really not what I would expect from a restaurant of such stature. Fireworks were lacking at any point, although a faint spark was ignited by the time we had tasted our desserts, a bit late for my taste buds to start tingling. Service was on the whole decent, but at times, it took far more effort to get a waiters attention than was necessary. Reading other reports, I can't help but think that much of what we experienced was an "off" day, but restaurants such as this really shouldn't be experiencing off days. I guess we will see how Dinner develops, but for the time being, I am in no rush to go back.

Dinner - Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA

For more pictures, please check out my Flickr stream here.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hand pulled: Noodle Bar, Leicester Square

Having been at my “new” job now for six months, I have had a decent amount of time to assess the lunch options and report back. One of my more favoured destinations happens to be a place quaintly named “Noodle Bar” (amongst a myriad of Chinese (?) characters that I am unable to decipher). In the window they have a rather dire array of pre cooked, probably been there for 3 days, fodder. Not the best start.

Once you look past the sheen of the hotlamps, you will see a guy standing next to a bubbling vat of water/stock, hand pulling noodles to order. Rumour has it that he was flown over specifically to perform this role, and in all fairness, I have seen him do little else. Rumour aside, a bowl of steaming hot noodles comes to a very reasonable £6, and most variations come in either a dry or soup version.

Although the rare beef version (number 1 on the menu) seems to come highly recommended, I always seem to opt for the spicy chicken. Although the broth seems to change on every visit, nothing quite hits the spot on a cold winters day than a freshly made pot of steaming and spicy noodles. Well worth dropping in, and not just for a takeaway as they have a few tables out back too.

Noodle Bar - 33 Cranbourne St, London WC2H 7AD

Noodle Bar (Lan Zhou La Mian) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Trully disappointing: Trullo, Islington

Trullo, Islington

I was very excited about the prospect of dining at Trullo, a small but relatively new Italian restaurant located within spitting distance of Highbury and Islington tube. After all, it had been receiving rave reviews from all and sundry, and I hadn’t heard a bad thing about it. Impromptu visits were impossible as reservations were snapped up weeks in advance, and it’s receipt of a Michelin Bib Gourmand last week just accentuated it’s growing notoriety. I think what happened next is best described in an almost accurate transcript of a conversation I had with a friend about it:

THEM: How's you? Saw you didn't love Trullo?
ME: No, Trullo was so disappointing on many levels.
THEM: Why is that?
ME: One of us was late as she had gone to the wrong restaurant (d'oh)
THEM: ergh... how did she manage that?
ME: She went to Tinello, so not too hard an error to make :)
THEM: the other side of town
ME: Well, still on the Vic line, so not a total nightmare. We asked if there was any flexibility on the table time as they wanted it back by 9pm, so a 2 hour window, but they bluntly said not likely and maybe we could call her and read her the menu over the phone?
THEM: They asked what?
ME: Exactly. Anyway, he pressurised us into ordering, which we did, although it was almost impossible to get their attention when we wanted to order as we were sitting at the corner table. We ordered pretty much everything they had. There was no fish as the delivery was stuck on the motorway, but you know how I feel about fish
THEM: That I do.

Trullo, Islington

ME: So, she arrived and all was good in the world (she ordered the rabbit fritti). Service got a bit better, all was looking good. So starters arrived, quail and kohlrabi salad, quail was nice, good aioli, kohlrabi was meh.
THEM: Aioli? That isn't Italian!
ME: Nope, but tasted good. The pastas arrived, penne with chilli and mascarpone lacked any kick but was nice enough. Beef ragu pappardelle was nice, very beefy, but to be fair, nothing special. But then....the duck ravioli though in sage butter sauce. They were amazing and easily the highlight of the meal

Trullo, Islington

ME: So they cleared them away, and I didn't feel massively rushed at this stage, although we were conscious of the clock, so not exactly relaxed. Mains, as they so often are, were very disappointing. My 30 day sirloin was bland, overseasoned and weirdly chewy. The polenta tasted pretty disgusting in my eyes, with a huge amount of gorgonzola in it, so overpowering. Rabbit came as "fritti", but also came with a rabbit offal salad which was so salty it was inedible. I hate doing it, but we had to send the salad back. They were very good about it and brought out a fresh lot pretty quickly.

Trullo, Islington

ME: They actually hurried us into ordering desserts, but brought us an extra tiramisu to make up for it. The blood orange panna cotta was not set enough and was starting to break up, and whilst ugly, tasted really very nice. Tiramisu would have benefited from being wetter (more coffee) but was on the whole very nice, and the only other thing that really rocked my world that night was the honeycomb and hazelnut ice cream. I have a soft spot for nut based ice creams anyway, but this was really excellent.

Trullo, Islington

THEM: Would you go back?
ME: No, probably not

So that was that, a thoroughly underwhelming meal which came to a total of £45 each (with wine and service). I sat at the bus stop patiently waiting for my bus in the light drizzle and reflected on what had gone wrong. The first major mistake was for a restaurant with ambition, and charging on average in the high teens per main, to impose a two hour turn around with no flexibility. At these prices, I would expect to be able to enjoy my meal without having to check my watch every five minutes and feel hurried by the staff. It left more of a bad taste in my mouth than the over salted food. Which is sort of my second point. The pastas were excellent, but everything else was either disappointing, inedible or average. Not really what I had hoped nor expected. As I text messaged a friend about the meal, my phone kept auto correcting “savouries” to “saboteur”. I can’t help thinking that there was a little bit of truth in that.

Trullo - 300-302 St Paul’s Road, London N1 2LH

Trullo on Urbanspoon