Monthly Archives: January 2010

Loon Tao

31 Gerrard Street 
London W1D 6JT
020 7287 2669

We were first introduced to Loon Tao by A’s best friend, KK. She told us about this secret dish that is not on the menu, and since then, whenever we go to Loon Tao, we order that without fail.

Loon Tao is just across the road from HSBC along Gerrard Street. Compared to the other restaurants on that street, like Plum Valley and Four Seasons, the shop front is very inconspicuous. The interior is much bigger than it looks from the outside, and the food is much better than first impressions of the shop would give.

 

The secret dish that is not on the menu is “Hua Dan Shao Ya He Fen”, which translates to “smooth egg with roast duck hor fun”. It’s hard to pinpoint what’s so good about this dish. I guess we like the flavor of the flat noodles (though sometimes it tends to be either too salty or too bland – yes, consistency is always an issue in Chinese restaurants, we know), and the egg is nice and smooth. The roast duck is not the best you’ll get in Chinatown, but it’s not bad at all. The peas in the dish we could do without though.

 

We always have the Deep Fried Squid with salt and pepper, and the Roast Pork and Char Siew mixed platter. If we have more people with us we will then have as well the Convolvulus (kangkong) done Malaysian Style. The squid dish is something we really like to have in Chinese restaurants, and the one at Loon Tao is adequate to satisfy our cravings – not the best, but adequate. The Roast Pork and Char Siew platter however, is really quite good. The sauce is flavorful yet not too overpowering, and the roast pork is (or rather, has always been, so far,) crispy. Compared to some of the horrors we’ve had, this really is something. If we have sudden char siew cravings, we’ll come over here to Loon Tao to take away. Their Convolvulus is not quite the kind we love in Singapore, but as a substitute, I guess it’ll just have to do. We’re used to having it with a lot of sambal balachan – can’t seem to find any restaurant that serves it that way.

It’s hard to stand out as a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. Even though we really like the food at Loon Tao, we can’t say that this is the ultimate best in Chinatown, because it really isn’t. In fact, I don’t think there is such a thing as a best restaurant in Chinatown. However, on many accounts Loon Tao doesn’t fail, which is not what we can say for some of their competitors, and in fact on some of those accounts it does pretty well. What we would really like to see is a Chinese restaurant really giving us all they’ve got. This might inspire the other restaurants in the area to buck up and improve.

So far, there’s just a lackadaisical attitude towards service, and contentment with mediocrity with food that’s plaguing restaurants in Chinatown. If not for the fact that we crave for Chinese food, as it’s familiar comfort food to us, we probably wouldn’t bother going to Chinatown ever (except for the roast duck at Four Seasons, which is indeed the best we’ve had, but that’s another story for another time).

Additional comments: Photos from QJ! 🙂 finally some good shots.

Service: 6/10
Food: 7/10

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Assaggi

39 Chepstow Place
London W2 4TS
020 7792 5501

Opening Hours
Lunch:
Monday to Friday 12.30-2.30pm
Saturday 1-2.30pm
Dinner:
Monday to Saturday 7.30-11pm

We had dinner with QJ, hosted by 2 of her father’s good friend. This restaurant was recommended by them. Assaggi is definitely not the easiest place to find, since it’s in a quiet corner not too near to Bayswater Tube Station, on top of a pub. We made sure that we were not too shabbily dressed, but judging from the service we received, I think they would have made us feel welcome even if we turned up in slippers and shorts.

This is Italian front of house at its best – loud, passionate, and very, very charming. Our menu was presented with a flourish, but alas, it was all in Italian! So our hosts asked for the recommendations of the day, and our server (who was probably the owner himself) did such a good job of selling every single dish that we would have ordered every last thing they served, had he not shouted “enough, enough, this is enough food” and whisked the menus from right under our noses – very slick and very, Italia.

We didn’t take any photos of the food, since our hosts were 2 very distinguished members of society, and didn’t want to embarrass them, or ourselves.

The essence of Assaggi is very simple, homely food. There’s very little fuss over the presentation, with little or none of those pretentious ingredients like truffle or foie gras. We had a starter of fried cheese with salad to share, which was very simple, but very very good. It came with a wrap that you’re supposed to wrap the cheese in with, and even Amanda, who usually dislikes cheese with a passion, found it very good. We also had individual starters. The fresh mozzarella cheese salad was the highlight of the meal. There was nothing complicated about that dish – it was just a celebration of the freshest ingredients and it tasted very clean and crisp.

We were more divided about the mains. The Fritto Misto (mixed fried seafood) came highly recommended, but was rather hit-and-miss. Parts of the dish like the prawn and the crispy fries were heavenly, but the others were less stellar. The pasta with fresh herb was very delicious at first bite, but the herb got rather overpowering about midway through the dish. The turbot dish though, was apparently very good, despite it being a hard fish to cook.

Desserts were a source of much debate. Our male host decided he would take it upon himself to make the decision for the group and order 5 of the same dessert, the name I can’t recall, but it was something he really liked. When the desserts arrived, loud protests came from 2 diners at the table. They absolutely hated it, and were most offended by the coffee that was generously poured all over the bowl. They decided to go ahead with their instincts and order tiramisu and a flourless chocolate cake instead, which went down much more agreeably. The other 3 diners appreciated the initial choice of desserts, and were rather amused by the way it was insulted by being called a “tiramisu gone wrong”.

Overall it was an enjoyable meal, and we felt honored to be able to be in the presence of 2 very smart and very well-connected people. (And a bimbo…that’s you, QJ). On a final note, subtle things make a huge difference: A was very impressed that her coat was returned to her heated, which points to the level of attention this restaurant gives to their guests.

Additional note: This restaurant has a Michelin star, and it is apparently very hard to get a table.

Service: 9/10
Food: 8 /10

Gelateria dei Neri

Via dei Neri 20-22r
Florence 50125
055 21 0034

It is almost a fact that the best gelato can be found in Italy, and of all the cities in Italy, the one with the highest quality of gelato is probably Florence. Indeed, every gelato we’ve had in Florence was fantastic, and believe me, we had many many gelatos (gelati?) in our 3 days in Florence. We practically had one before lunch, one after lunch, one for tea, one before dinner, and one after dinner. Of all the gelato stalls in Italy, our favorite would be Neri.

 

The selection of gelato at Neri is immense, and we had a very good time trying many of their flavors before deciding which ones we wanted to buy. The servers were nice and very patient with us. The gelato was definitely freshly made, and every one of them was full of natural flavor. The best thing is that Neri is located very near to Trattoria Anita, where we had our fantastic beef steak, so it was very convenient for us to pop by for dessert after a satisfying dinner, which made the meal just simply perfect.

Trattoria Anita

Via del Parlascio 2/r
I-50122 Florence
055 21 8698

Bistecca Alla Fiorentina is an amazingly mouthwateringly good steak, perhaps, as inferred from its name, found only in Florence. When we were in Florence, we followed our guide book’s recommendations and headed to Trattoria Anita for lunch. For just 10euros (it might be more expensive now) we had a choice of lunch sets. A had one set which came with a plate of pasta and salad, which was just alright, and I had the Bistecca Alla Fiorentina, which was so amazing that we went back the next day for dinner to have it again.

 

Dinner was much better than lunch. We had a parma ham and mozzarella starter which we don’t remember much of now (it was 2 years ago when we were there) and a bacon and tomato pasta for A and a carbonara for me which were far better than what we had for lunch. In fact, A loved her pasta very much and could remember it till date.

Once again, the Bistecca stole the show. It was equally good, if not better, than what we had for lunch. There’s something primal about attacking a huge beautiful piece of beef, and this was indeed a beautiful steak. It was very nicely grilled on the outside, and tender and full of flavor inside. For the beef itself we would have given Trattoria Anita an 8 for food, but it was let down but the other dishes we had during lunch, which were just average. In fact we love Bistecca Alla Fiorentina so much we’re going to make a trip back to Florence in summer this year in search for the perfect one! Watch this space!

Service: 7/10
Food: 7.5/10

Belgo Centraal

50 Earlham Street
Covent Garden
London WC2H 9LJ
0207 813 2233
http://www.belgo-restaurants.co.uk/

Opening Hours
Monday to Saturday 12-11pm
Sunday 12-10.30pm

I’ve been to Belgo in my first year of University, and I remembered it to be pretty good. This time, after 3 years, I’m back, with A, QJ and D. We ordered from the lunch menu, which was quite restrictive, but was enough to capture the flavor of Belgo.

We had a squid salad to start with, which was very appetizing. A good start.

For mains I had spit roasted chicken with a chili and ginger sauce, served with fries. The chicken came rather dry, but the chili sauce was good, despite the ginger, which I usually dislike.

A and D had the mussels with fries. When I think of Belgo I think of mussels. I’ve had amazing mussels in Nice, and I remembered the mussels at Belgo to be very good. A and D enjoyed their dishes, but I remembered it to be better.

QJ had the salmon fillet, which was quite thin and dry.

Overall, I thought the food to be far from what I remembered it to be. Maybe my palette has vastly improved and evolved since my first year in University, so I was rather disappointed by this meal.

Service: 6.5/10
Food: 5.5/10

Vineria

1 Blenheim Terrace
St. John’s Wood
London NW8 OEH
0 20 7328 5014
http://www.vineria.it/wordpress/vinerie/london/

Opening Hours
Lunch:
Tuesday to Sunday 12-2.30pm
Dinner:
Monday to Saturday 6.30-10.30pm
Sunday 6.30-10pm

Vineria is located in St John’s Wood, a very nice and quiet neighborhood, and is just a few hundred meters from the legendary Abbey Studios of Beetles fame. It was one of the highly rated restaurants on toptable. Making full use of the 50% offers on toptable, we went to check it out, with QJ.

It was a beautiful day, and the restaurant benefitted from all the goodness of natural light, having long glass windows and a nice white interior. We were among the few patrons for lunch that day, and had the fortune of being served by the manager himself, since there were only a few tables filled. Service was hence flawless, and it all made for a very pleasant lunch.

The basket of bread was filled with a selection of very nice bread. The quality of the bread came as quite a surprise to us, as in Italy we were always disappointed with the bread at almost every restaurant. At Vineria we had some very nice and soft bread, some with sun-dried tomato, and some with nuts.

Our starters were a very nicely done ravioli with squid ink and some excellent scallops. Both were very simple and elegantly presented.

For mains, QJ had pasta with truffle. This came with a very generous sprinkling of truffle, and we quickly picked up a piece of truffle each to try. When tried alone, the truffle tasted of earth and we wondered why anyone would enjoy it at all. However, when mixed in with the pasta, the earthiness gave a very nice profile to the dish.

We also had a very nice and creamy risotto, and a beautiful piece of Bistecca (steak). The steak was perhaps a little too over-done for our liking, but it was so absolutely delicious that we quickly forgot about it.

We were very happy with the food so far, and we decided to go for desserts. Many places fail on desserts, and we wanted to see how Vineria fared on this aspect. We ordered 2 tiramisus and a lemon tart. Both the desserts were sublime. The tiramisu was easily one of the best we have ever had. It was light yet firm, delicate and very satisfying. The lemon tart too was very good, and it came with some nice berries on the side.

Overall this was a very good meal, and it was surprising to us that it wasn’t as crowded as it should have been. The toptable offer made it incredibly affordable as well, and we’re definitely waiting for it to put up such an offer again, so that we can go back for another time.

Additional Comments: 50% discount on food if you book on toptable.com

Service: 9/10
Food: 8.5/10

Sushi Hiro

1 Station Parade
Uxbridge Road
Ealing W5 3LD
020 8896 3175

Opening Hours
Lunch:
Tuesday to Sunday 11-1.30pm
Dinner:
Tuesday to Sunday 4.30-9pm

In one of the most unlikely places in London, all the way in Zone 3 is this gem of a restaurant. A couple of months back we drove over to Sushi Hiro after a road trip, and we were not given a table as they insisted they were fully booked. Frustratingly, the restaurant was almost empty, and we tried to persuade them that we eat quickly and would have been out in no time at all, but they refused to sit us at a table, and we had to resort to take out and eat in the car. Armed with this knowledge we made a reservation this time round, and we were very quickly ushered to our table.

Sushi Hiro is one of the most unpretentious, no frills restaurants you can ever find in London. It is bright and very simple looking, perfect for photographs. They serve the freshest fish, supposedly supplied by Atari-ya Foods (watch out for another post about this). There is no kitchen in Sushi Hiro, and everything they serve is made at the sushi counter right in front of your eyes.

We had the sashimi selection, which was glorious. The fatty tuna melted straight away in our mouths, and the shrimp was wonderfully sweet. The scallops too were surprisingly sweet, and overall this was almost the perfect sashimi platter. It would have been absolutely perfect had it salmon sashimi, which we love.

We ordered some a la carte sushi, and a sushi set, which we shared. Everything was extremely fresh and delicious. The uni (sea urchin) was divine, the ikura (salmon roe) was bursting with goodness, and the salmon sushi was to die for. Everything was excellent. K, who eats all the gari (pickled ginger slices) even felt that that was amazing. Every piece of sushi came with a generous topping, which was as fresh as you it could come, and which was in itself worthy of being a part of a sashimi platter.

In short, we cannot fault Sushi Hiro for their food. This is Japanese food at its very best. All the flavours were clean and they didn’t need to rely on any gimmicks to distract from their food. Such is the confidence they have in themselves that you have to simply give it up to them.

Service: 8/10
Food: 8.5/10