Monthly Archives: May 2010

Imperial China

25a Lisle Street
London WC2H 7BA
020 7734 3388
http://www.imperial-china.co.uk/

Imperial China is probably one of the more restaurant looking restaurants in Chinatown. The good thing about it is that the food is not much more expensive than other restaurants in Chinatown, and you get far better service there. Perhaps due to the large number of tables available in Imperial China, when we were there we never felt that they were in a hurry to get us to leave, unlike our experiences in places like Leong’s Legend, or 4 Seasons, or practically every other of Imperial China’s competitors.

As usual, we ordered a mountain of food. The waitress had to lift the extension to our table to make more space because we couldn’t fit all our food on whatever space there was. And that was after stacking the dim sum baskets on top of each other. Yes, gluttons we are.

 

We enjoyed most of our dishes. The egg tarts were very light and melted in our mouths, but it was a pity that they were so small. A prefers to have her egg tarts small, but this was truly miniscule. The squid rings were also very yummy, and the dipping sauce was perfect to provide a balance to the fried batter.

 

The noodles were also pretty good. We ordered this because we saw the 2 men beside us eating it. There was a generous amount of seafood – scallops and prawn and squid in the noodles, and we really liked it.

We ordered as well a portion of roast duck and char siew. The roast duck was quite a disappointment. The skin was not crispy and it the duck came literally swimming in an overly diluted sauce that didn’t help at all. The meat wasn’t as juicy and tender as what we have come to expect of roast duck in London, ala 4 seasons and Pearl Liang. The Char Siew was also quite strange. It was not so much as char siew as it was sliced pork with a char siew sauce. To put it bluntly, the char siew just didn’t char siew. It was one of the worst attempts at char siew that we have ever seen – quite appalling indeed.

 

Another dish that fell flat was the fried turnip cake, Singapore style. We had high hopes for this dish, and were hoping so hard that it would be what we imagined it to be – the Singaporean fried carrot cake. However, what was presented to us was something quite different. We should have known. Anything ‘Singaporean style’ in London will inevitable fail our taste test. There was nothing Singaporean about this dish. All it was was fried turnip cake with a pinch of curry powder. In fact, we think we have that exact same curry powder in our kitchen. This, we didn’t bother to finish.

 

The dim sum is above average at Imperial China. The char siew baos and xiao long baos were all decent. We also went for this very interesting sounding item on the dim sum menu – prawn dumpling shaped in a goldfish. It looked exactly as it was advertised. This was literally a prawn dumpling which had been shaped like a goldfish. There were even little orange dots for the eyes! Unfortunately, these tasted horrible. The skin was rubbery and thick, and the prawns were not fresh. In fact, it seemed as if the prawns had been mashed up into somewhat of a paste before it was put into the dumpling. We didn’t order their Har Gao, so there is no means of comparison, but we just thought that they could retain the texture and taste of har gao in this item it would be a hit. However, god forbid their har gao to be equally atrocious.

 

We enjoyed their mango pudding somewhat, but like the egg tarts, they were so small it was hardly enough. This wasn’t close to the standard of mango pudding at Pearl Liang – there was a very unnatural orange colour to the mango pudding, and the mango wasn’t fresh, unlike Pearl Liang’s.

Overall, the food at Imperial China is pretty good (except for some real misses). In summary, they’ve got many things in place to make it great. However, there is something lacking in Imperial China that makes it forgettable. Simply put, they haven’t found a niche area to specialize in, so it hardly registers on my radar at all. I never think of going to Chinatown and having a meal at Imperial China, but I do think of going to Leong’s Legend, or 4 Seasons, or Loon Tao quite regularly. Its location doesn’t help as well – it is away from the main restaurant strip, in a quieter street parallel to Gerard Street. This is truly a shame, because it deserves to be high on my list of restaurants to go to in Chinatown, but currently, it isn’t – because when it’s time to decide where to eat, I never remember it.

Service: 7/10
Food: 7/10

Viet Noodle Bar

34 Greek Street
London W1D 5DJ

We really discovered this place by chance. We took a different route to get to Chinatown one afternoon, and passed Viet Noodle bar. Based on first impressions we wouldn’t have given this a second look, but the thing that amazed us was that it was absolutely packed with customers slurping away at their very large bowls of noodles. We told ourselves that we would definitely need to come and try it out some day.

 

So we did. We went there after one of our exams. It wasn’t the busiest part of dinner service when we entered the restaurant, but it was already quite full. We were ushered to a table right in the corner, and were told that we were to expect to share our table with other customers, if the restaurant did fill up. No sooner than we had placed our order did we have to shuffle to the side to allow another 2 people to share our table. We didn’t really mind, as it was clear by the looks of it that this is no fine establishment – you come in, you eat, you pay and you leave as quickly as possible. In a strange way it was comforting to know that this place is so immensely popular, so the food must be good. Also, it added to the authenticity of the place. Sure, we’re being biased – there would be no chance in hell most other restaurants would get away with asking paying customers to share tables with other customers, but it was such a no frills place that we would have felt bad if we had insisted on having the table to ourselves.

 

Now, onto the food. We had a Vietnamese summer roll – lovely crunchy vegetables rolled in a translucent rice paper wrap. It was the most clichéd of Vietnamese starters to order, but we were glad we ordered it. A was worried that there would be an overdose of those fragrant leaves that are very characteristic of Vietnamese food, which she isn’t a fan of, but this was very well balanced and refreshing. The fish sauce dip was also excellent.

 

We shared a portion of fried squid rings. Those were probably one of the most addictive squid rings we have ever had. There was something oddly irresistible about the batter, and the little bits of fried chili and vegetables that came with the dish as well. The batter was a little too thick, and the squid was a little on the chewy side, but for some strange reason we really liked this dish. The flavors were awesome, and that alone was enough for us to forgive the ‘unrefined-ness’ of the dish.

 

We had the Special Pho (you get a mix of different meats and prawn). The soup was heavenly. It’s a clear broth that just awakes your palate and your appetite. As with all traditional Vietnamese soup mains, this came with a plate of raw beansprouts, sliced chilies and strange ‘herby’ vegetables, most of which we don’t put in our soup at all. In fact, we only put the beansprout in our soup. If there’s one thing that can be improved it would have to be the beansprouts. These weren’t the most juicy or sweet as beansprouts can get. In fact, I think the Sainsbury beansprouts are far more juicy and sweet than the ones at Viet. But that’s nit picking a little. You really cannot go wrong with ordering pho at Viet.

 

We tried the bun as well. This was a very simple looking dish. It was just a lot of vegetables and some beef over a bed of vermicelli. However, it was deceptively flavorful. We have to digress a little to mention the chili sauce, which went really well with everything we ordered. We even added a little in the soup, which made it even more tasty and mindblowing.

Overall, we love Viet. It is literally our favourite find of the year. It’s really hard to find an authentic bowl of pho in London. Some time back we reviewed Pho, a chain of restaurants with some branches in London selling pretty good pho. Well, Viet totally kicks Pho’s ass. Big time. There is a far more authentic feel about Viet, and the food rocks too.

Service: 6/10 (but on our second visit probably a 5/10)
Food: 7.5/10

Scoop

40 Shorts Gardens
London WC2H 9AB
02072407086

We were walking around Covent Garden when we saw a man carrying a sign pointing to this little gelato place just off Monmouth Street. It was a beautiful sunny day, and having a gelato just seemed like the perfect thing to do, so we headed in that direction without any hesitation.

 

We had 2 cones each. I had a mix of 2 flavors: chocolate and biscottini. K had a mix of pistachio and hazelnut. Both came with the most generous double scoops of ice cream we have ever had. From then on we were racing against time to finish our gelato before it melted. For £2.80 a cone (2 scoops), this was incredible value for money. We think though, that once word gets out they’ll soon reduce the amount of ice cream they dish out per scoop, but till then this is quite unbeatable.

 

The gelato was very smooth. K felt that it was really wonderfully creamy, but then again, according to the information displayed on their signboard each serving of 2 scoops contains 180 kcal (110 kcal for 2 scoops of sorbet) . It’s quite hard to imagine how such a creamy gelato can have so few calories, but I don’t think anyone’s complaining! Anyway, the flavors aren’t particularly strong – after a while the pistachio and hazelnut just blended into one indiscernible mix, and the chocolate and biscottini also soon became one. However, we truly enjoyed them, and will probably pop by to have more if we happen to be in the neighborhood.

Soju (Korean Kitchen)

32 Windmill Street
London W1D 7LR
020 7434 3262

Korean Kitchen or Soju was recommended to us by K’s good friend I. After a disastrous exam in the morning, we decided to pay this restaurant a visit to reward ourselves for the hard work put into our revision which unfortunately, did not pay off, but that’s another story altogether. This is the third of our post-exam meals, where we go to a restaurant we have never been to – some ritual we’ve invented to give us something to look forward to in the days leading to each exam.

 

Soju is situated in Soho, a very vibrant neighbourhood. K remarked that to survive in such a neighbourhood, the food must either be really cheap, or really good. So we held high hopes to find yet another good Korean restaurant. Soju was really empty and quiet when we arrived. In fact, bizarrely, we were the only customers in the whole restaurant throughout our meal.

 

We ordered our usual: Japchae. This seems to be the yardstick we use for judging the worth of any Korean restaurant. Unfortunately, this was the worst Japchae we’ve ever had. There was something seriously lacking in the dish that caused it to be really bland. Perhaps it lacked some black pepper, or some seasoning, or some spice, or all of the above, we don’t know, but Japchae usually gives our palate a good kick to awake it in preparation for our meal, but this just fell short, and left us just puzzled.

 

We tried putting it behind, and give the restaurant another chance by having the Kimchi pancake, another dish we order all the time in Korean restaurants. The pancake at Korean Kitchen had a really good texture – it’s the thicker kind, like the one that Koba serves, and was nice and crispy. However, the difference is that Koba serves theirs with a generous amount of kimchi in it, but the Kimchi pancake in Korean Kitchen was distinctly lacking in kimchi.

 

We also had the bulgogi, which was served on a “sizzling” hot plate that strangely didn’t sizzle. It came with additional sauce on a saucer, and the meat on the “sizzling” plate was rather dry. It was overall a very confusing dish – we weren’t sure whether the sauce was supposed to go into the plate or to be used as a dip, and we couldn’t understand why the hot plate wasn’t sizzling hot as it should have been. This was a very disappointing dish.

 

The bibimbap was perhaps the best dish of the meal. However, that’s not saying a lot. It came with a generous amount of raw beef, and a raw egg that cooked beautifully with the raw beef once it was mixed in the hot pot (that was indeed hot thankfully). We would have preferred more of the spicy sauce, but nevertheless, this was an above average bibimbap.

We’ve read many positive reviews about this place, and we were highly recommended to eat at Korean Kitchen by our friend (whose taste we absolutely trust). Hence, as you can imagine, after our meal we were left wondering whether we were at the correct restaurant in the first place. From the complete lack of customers (we were there at typical lunch hours) to the substandard food, we just don’t understand why this place has been given all those glowing reviews it has received. We won’t be back for a second opinion that’s for sure – we have better things to spend our calories on.

Service: 7/10
Food: 6/10

Malaysian Kopitiam

67 Charing Cross Road
London WC2H 0NE
0207 2871113
http://www.malaysiakopitiam.co.uk/

Opening Hours:
Monday to Sunday 12-11pm

It was really a mystery why it took us so long before we decided to go to Malaysian Kopitiam. Its location is so prominent that we pass by it every time we walk to Chinatown, and it has always caught our eye when we walk pass. However, it has never crossed our minds once to go in and try the food.

 

Today, we did. We decided to make it somewhat of a post-exam ritual to go for a nice meal at somewhere new after sitting for every paper. The first of 8 new places was Rasoi, which we posted the review of some days earlier. Today’s post-exam meal was at Malaysian Kopitiam.

We started off by having some Teh Tarik and Grass Jelly. The Teh Tarik was very good, with a good taste of tea, balanced by the richness of the milk. The Grass Jelly drink was initially really sweet, but as the ice gradually melted it became just right. Both drinks were excellent value for money, and we would go back just to have them.

 

The food came shortly after. We had the Nasi Lemak and Char Kwey Tiao as mains. The Nasi Lemak was pretty good – the rice was wonderfully fragrant, but slightly too soggy and sticky. The sides were all pretty good – nice crunchy acar, very good and crispy ikan bilis and peanuts, good curry chicken and fantastic chili sauce that was almost like a dish by itself. It was a satisfying plate of Nasi Lemak. (Of course, this pales in comparison to our favourite Nasi Lemak in the whole wide world, at Adam’s Road Hawker Center in Singapore, but as a substitute about 11000km away, this does pretty well.)

 

The Char Kwey Tiao was interesting. At first bite K declared the flavours to be very similar to what we have at home. However, as he ate more and more of the dish, he began to complain that a lot was lacking. He felt that there was a general lack of character in the dish. The Char Kwey Tiao we are used to is street food at its best – oily, unhealthy, yet full of flavor and everyone’s secret desire. This Char Kwey Tiao at Malaysian Kopitiam was far too sanitized. It lacked the oomph and character that Char Kwey Tiao should be. After all, everyone can fry a plate of kwey tiao, but to deserve the name Char Kwey Tiao, one needs to do something magical to that dish. This was lacking that something something.

 

We also ordered some Sambal Kang Kong. This was probably the closest to what we have at home as we have ever had in London so far. All it needed was some more belachan and spice to give it more kick. Otherwise, it was very satisfying.

 

As if that wasn’t enough food, we ordered a Curry Fish Head as well. This was probably the dish we talked about most of all the dishes we had. The curry was awesome – truly flavorful and really rich. However, the fish was just shocking. We simply couldn’t get over the fact that they had used salmon in their fish head curry. The concept of salmon, such an oily fish, being used in this manner was just scandalous. Back home, and in Malaysia, the fish of choice is Ikan Merah (or, ‘red fish’). This is not an oily fish, but is very tasty and meaty. It lends itself very well to curries. Salmon however, is not suitable at all to be used in curries. The flavors just simply do not match. However, we can fully see why salmon was used – it is cheap here. At Billingsgate it costs just 50p per fish head. To use Ikan Merah here would cost the restaurant far more. Anyway, we also felt that the fish was not particularly fresh, and K was horrified that there wasn’t even an attempt at marinating the fish or trying to make the flavors go together. It was literally 2 separate dishes, a) salmon head, and b) curry, mixed together at the last minute. Quite a shame indeed, since the curry was, by itself, quite good.

Overall, we can’t say that the food at Malaysian Kopitiam is horrible, because it isn’t. It is satisfying to a certain degree, as it provides us with a source of Singaporean style dishes to satisfy our cravings. However, it doesn’t quite hit the spot, and falls short on many aspects. We’re still on the hunt for the perfect restaurant to go to for good authentic Singaporean cuisine, but for all its worth, this place is perhaps one of the closest we’ve found so far. (And the drinks are good!)

Service: 7/10
Food: 6/10

Fernandez & Wells

73 Beak Street
London W1F 9SR
0207 287 8124
http://www.fernandezandwells.com

It was Bank Holiday Monday, and we decided to try our luck to see if Fernandez & Wells was open. Indeed it was, but they seemed to be operating a limited service. We first stumbled onto the branch along Lexington Street, but this wasn’t the sandwich joint we were expecting. We were directed towards the café along Beak Street and there was the Fernandez & Wells we came for.

 

There was a very limited selection of sandwiches and food, so it was definitely very disappointing to not get the whole range of items available. QJ and K both had the salmon sandwich, which was actually really good. I didn’t like the pickles mixed in the salmon. It would have been nice if they were larger chunks so I could remove them, but K and QJ loved them anyway.

 

Very surprisingly, the Portuguese egg tarts were actually really, really good. They were far better than those we had in Macau, where they are supposed to be one of the best around already. The egg custard was perfectly smooth and slightly firm, and the pastry was really yummy.

 

Fernandez & Wells is perhaps more known for their coffee, so we had their Piccolo and Latte. We’re both not experts at coffee, so we can’t say too much about it, but we think QJ enjoyed the coffee. K thought that the Latte was pretty good, after the addition of some sugar.

Food: not going to rate this at this point, we might go back for a fairer assessment some other time, but we can see the potential this place has, and why so many people rave about it.

Busaba Eathai

2 Store Street
London WC1E 7DF
020 7299 7900
http://www.busaba.com/

Opening Hours:
Monday to Thursday 12-11pm
Friday to Saturday 12-11.30pm
Sunday 12-10pm

We’ve been to Busaba Eathai about 2 years ago, but strangely we don’t remember very much about it. Somehow though, we didn’t think that the food was bad, but that was as far as our memory would bring us. We decided to visit it again, to give it a second chance, also because so many people seem to think so highly of it. It was raining really heavily on Sunday when we went there, so it was quite lucky that we chose to go when we did, since it was just a short walk away from Church.

We were there before they opened, but since it was raining so heavily outside the waiter let us into the restaurant while they had their staff meeting.

 

The concept is very similar to Cha Cha Moon, with its large communal tables, and quirky fonts in its menus. We didn’t have to share our table with others since it was quite quiet when we were there.

Anyway, we were there with D and QJ, so we had 4 mains in all. A’s beef kwetio (sic) had a good broth, with nice tender slices of beef, but the kwetio was appalling. It was too hard and not cooked through properly. It wasn’t even pretending to be al dente, but was completely undercooked. It clumped together awkwardly and was just unpleasant to eat.

 

K’s Chiang Mai noodle was good. It reminded him of the lamb curry dish he had in Cha Cha Moon but this was miles better. The curry was excellent and nicely spiced, with a lot of flavor, very unlike the tasteless lamb curry at Cha Cha Moon. However, he too had issues with the noodles. While A’s noodles were undercooked, K’s noodles were completely overcooked and way too soggy. The lamb was good though.

D had Pad Thai, which was alright, but not the best we’ve had. It definitely couldn’t match up to the standard of Addie’s Thai Café, but it was a commendable attempt at Pad Thai. QJ’s vegetarian Asparagus Fried Rice was also above average, and we liked very much the ‘wok hei’ taste in it. ‘Wok hei’ is this yummy, slightly charred taste, that you get in stir fried food when its been cooked above a very strong flame, which was what we got with the fried rice, so that was a few points earned for Busaba Eathai.

We shared a Calamari starter. This was a very different style from what we’re used to, and the ginger made it very unique.

Overall we weren’t blown away by the food. We didn’t exactly come with very high expectations to begin with, since Busaba Eathai never ever advertised itself as authentic Thai food, and we place a lot of weight on authenticity. Indeed, the food is hardly authentic Thai food, but as imitation Thai, watered down for the undiscerning palate, it was a commendable effort.

Service: 6/10
Food: 6.5/10