Monthly Archives: June 2010

Grom

Via delle Oche, 24-red
50122 Firenze
055 216158

S brought us to this gelateria very near the duomo in Florence. It was quite early in the day, a little surprising to have gelato then, but hey, when in Florence the gelato is so good that I would have it for breakfast if I could.

 

Grom serves very good gelato indeed. The gelato is handmade, and there is a live demonstration to the side of the shop for tourists to see the gelato making process. We had the hazelnut, pistachio, melon and stracciatella. Everything was heavenly. The stracciatella was a little too subtle, and the white chocolate could be slightly stronger, but it was still pretty good. We seem to have developed a liking for the flavor combination of pistachio and hazelnut, and we have started using this combination as a control to test the quality of a gelateria.

Grom passes with flying colours. The gelato here is very smooth and really top-grade. The bits of hazelnut and pistachio really add flavor and complement the texture of the gelato. In the land of a million gelaterias, this is one of the best. We liked it so much we went out of our way to go back for more on our second day in Florence.

Food: 7.5/10

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Old Bridge Gelateria

Vatican, V. dei Bastioni d. Michelangelo 5
0639723026

This is just a tiny hole in the wall, just across the street from the bend in the Vatican museum’s outside wall. This is probably our favourite gelato place in all of Rome. It is also extremely conveniently located, and it would be a very good idea to get your gelato at The Old Bridge, and eat it while you walk into the Vatican City, or queue for the museum.

 

The first time we were here we had our gelato in a cone, and the portions were so huge that it was literally a battle against time to finish it before it melted right in our hands. This time round we had our gelato in a cup. The pistachio was fantastic, with the correct amount of little bits of pistachio, yet still maintaining the smooth, creamy texture of the gelato. The hazelnut was also very good – not as intense to overpower the pistachio, yet still strong enough to impress.

The fruit flavours we tried were also very nice. In particular, the banana was simply divine.

Food: 7.5/10

Il Gelato di San Crispino

V. della Panetteria 42
066793924
http://www.ilgelatodisancrispino.it/

Renowned as the best gelato in Rome, a scoop from San Crispino’s is worth throwing a coin into the Trevi fountain, so claimed our guidebook. Our experience couldn’t have been more different.

 

There was just one server in the shop, and he was probably the most unfriendly person ever to work in the service industry. He served the gelato in record time, scooping it and literally throwing it on the counter. No hellos, no can-I-help-yous, no thank-yous, not even a smile offered. You had to put the money on this little tray and not anywhere else, or he would mutter a not-so-subtle curse under his breath. I absolutely kid you not. The sitting area was fenced off, and he literally scolded anyone who tried to enter. This was the worst example of customer service (or lack of) that we have ever experienced. It was just shocking beyond words. This horrible server also got LM’s order wrong. She wanted dark chocolate chip, and was given dark chocolate, and insisted that the gelato he gave her was dark chocolate chip when it clearly wasn’t, since the tub of dark chocolate chip was on the opposite end of the counter from where he scooped the gelato from. When A went after LM and ordered dark chocolate chip, he went to the correct end of the counter this time and scooped from the dark chocolate chip tub. We were just disgusted.

 

As for the gelato, we were unimpressed. We tried to be objective and not let the horrible experience in the shop affect our opinion on the gelato, but we still felt that this was definitely undeserving of the title of best gelato in Rome. We would rather cross over the river and walk to the Vatican City to have gelato at The Old Bridge than have gelato at Crispino. The gelato was icy, as if it had not been kept at the right temperature, and froze when it was re-introduced into the proper temperature. The mango tasted artificial, and the pistachio was a little too chunky. The dark chocolate was nice though, but not worth the short walk from the Trevi Fountain at all.

Overall, this was a completely waste of time, money and calories. The gelato is not cheap as well – the cups are easily the smallest I’ve ever seen in all of Italy. To sum it up in four words: DO NOT GO THERE.

Additional Comments: We were there on a Tuesday yet it was opened, but as mentioned, we weren’t allowed to the seating area, so perhaps there’s just a limited service on Tuesday.

Service: 2/10
Food: 5/10

Il Pollarola

P. Pollarola 24-25, Rome
0668801654

We flew to Rome immediately after our exams, as a post-exam reward trip. We went with S, who flew into London from Singapore just the day before, and met up with LM who was travelling in Italy. We had one of the best carbonara in Rome the last time we were there, so we headed straight for Grappolo near Piazza Navona for some blow-us-away carbonara. Alas, it was not opened for lunch (how stupid of us, we should have checked). We were starving, and didn’t fancy walking somewhere too far away, so we flipped through our guidebook to see if there were any recommended restaurants nearby. Sure enough, Il Pollarola was just around the corner, so we went there.

Perhaps since we were still recovering from the disappointment of not being able to eat at Grappolo, we weren’t very inspired by the menu, so we just went for whatever dishes were mentioned in our guide book. We ordered 2 canelloni (lasagna with meat), 1 spaghetti alle vongole and 1 penne all’arrabbiata. According to the guide book these were all fine examples of traditional dishes, exquisitely prepared. Deciding that we wanted some meat, we ordered a veal chop as well.

Overall, we were quite disappointed. The spaghetti alle vongole tasted processed, and the spaghetti was overcooked. The penne was decent, but it was such a plain and simple dish that it got boring after a while. I guess since Italians eat pasta as a pre-main course they tend to keep it plain and simple. We definitely wished for a little more excitement.

The cannelloni was quite nice, but it was swimming in a pool of scaldingly hot melted cheese that was quite excessive. By itself the cannelloni was quite al dente and tasty, and really didn’t need all that cheese at all.

Our veal chop never came. They ‘ran out’ of veal at 1pm.

Service: 6/10
Food: 6/10

Rasa Sayang

5 Macclesfield Street
London W1D 6AY
020 7734 1382
http://rasasayangfood.blogspot.com/

7 exams down, 1 more to go! For our 7th post exam meal we went to Rasa Sayang, a restaurant in Chinatown serving Malaysian and Singaporean food.

 

We managed to get there just before the lunch crowd did, so we got our table immediately. Luckily we did, as service was very slow. There were only 2 servers around, rushing from table to table all throughout the busiest part of lunch hour. It was quite strange indeed. We counted 3 empty tables waiting to be cleared while customers stood around waiting to be served. We also waited eternity for the bill.

By our standards we didn’t order a lot. In fact, I thought we under ordered, and was half expecting to order more after we had finished some of our dishes. However, we never got down to doing it. In fact, we didn’t even finish our food.

We shared a drink – Teh Tarik, which is supposed to be a milk tea that has been poured back and forth from a height to give it a thick frothy top. What arrived was definitely not teh tarik. There was no thick frothy top, and it was just diluted and flat.

 

We ordered a Fried Oyster Omelette, Fried carrot cake and Roti Canai, all from the starter section, and a Fried Kwey Tiao to share. Bizarrely the main dish arrived first. The Fried Kwey tiao was uninspiring. We’ve written a review on the Fried Kwey Tiao at Malaysian Kopitiam a while ago:

“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.”

The Char Kwey Tiao at Rasa Sayang was a million times worse than that at Malaysian Kopitiam. It was lacking in everything that a Char Kwey Tiao should be. Basically, it should have just been called Fried Hor Fun. Yes, we’re purists – don’t call it Char Kwey Tiao if you’re not going to serve Char Kwey Tiao. Simple as that.

 

The Oyster Omelette was definitely much better than the Taiwanese version of Oyster Omelette, but it was also a huge let down. The Tapioca flour in the dish started to get really annoying after a few bites. There was a nice oyster fragrance though – something positive finally.

 

The Roti Canai was another disappointment. Just before writing this I read the latest review (4/6/2010) from tehbus.com about this restaurant in Sydney – Mamak:

“We waited a little while for our table but we admired the chefs in the window tossing up the roti in the air, and crafting a light and airy roti. By the time we took our seats, we were ravenous.”

Dear oh dear, what we wouldn’t give to have that same experience. The roti canai we had was hard and tasteless. It was obvious that it was store bought, and the curry that was served with it had odd bits of jellied fats swimming around, which probably meant that the curry wasn’t even reheated up properly to melt the fats, which then means that the curry wasn’t freshly made, which means that…oh **** it, did I really expect them to make their curry themselves? It was just depressing. I don’t want to sit in a restaurant to eat food that has been reheated from a packet that has been factory made.

And don’t get me started on the Fried Carrot Cake. Even though we didn’t order a lot of food we just couldn’t finish this dish. In fact, we barely ate a few bites. A was shocked that I actually wanted to take away the leftovers. But we did anyway, and had to pay 20p extra for this ‘service’.

 

And as a side note, something that really baffled me was this small piece of banana leaf that was on every single plate, hidden under the food. Was this meant to exoticize the food? Well yes, many dishes in the South-East-Asian region are served on a banana leaf. That they got right. However, the leaf is supposed to act as the plate, not playing a hide-and-seek game by hiding under a bed of food. This tiny post-it sized leaf was just pathetic, and did nothing but to serve as a bad caricature of Malaysian and Singaporean food. It did not serve any purpose whatsoever. Yes, I am grumpy. I felt like eating at Rasa Sayang was an absolute waste of time, money and calories. Places like these are meant to satisfy our craving for Singaporean food. However, this made me miss it even more.

Luckily for them, they have an abundance of customers. Good for them. They obviously benefit from serving food with novel tastes. However, we know better. This is nothing like the real deal.

Service: 5.5/10
Food: 5/10

Bar Shu

28 Frith Street
London W1D 5LF
02072878822
http://www.bar-shu.co.uk/

We had our first experience of Sichuan food when we celebrated D’s birthday in Chili Cool with their Ma La (hot and numbing) hot pot. We didn’t like the numbing sensation that the spicy hot pot gave us, and we spent most of the meal avoiding those pesky numbing seeds. So, you can say that we started off with Sichuan food on a very bad foot. Since then, D has been using all ways and means to get us back to Chili Cool to try their other dishes, which he said were really good. A had none of it, and flat out refused to go back. I didn’t find the experience as foul, and after reading loads of great reviews of Chili Cool and Sichuan food in general, I was really interested in going back to try out more dishes. However, it seemed like I would never get A to, since she was feeling so adverse to Sichuan food.

So you can imagine that it came as a huge surprise when she said that she wanted to go to Bar Shu, a restaurant that serves Sichuan food. I guess she found out that I was secretly reading about Sichuan food, and finally thought she should give it a second chance.

 

Bar Shu is one of those restaurants that we pass by on many occasions on the way to Chinatown, but never give a second look. Anyway, the restaurant was quite full when we arrived, and there were many Chinese students dining there – quite a good sign that the food is good.

We tried not to go too crazy with the ordering, partly as we really didn’t want to overeat (as we usually do) and also because of A’s apprehension towards Sichuan food. There were some standout dishes as mentioned by online reviewers which we gravitated towards. We started by ordering starters and street food, and told our server that we would order more after those starters arrived. The menu was immense, and each dish came with a rather large photo of what the dish would look like. That did help our decision to a certain extent, but by the time we got to the last page we had forgotten what dishes we had earlier decided on.

We had 2 drinks – Aloe Vera with Strawberry, and Green tea with Melon. Both were very sweet and satisfying, albeit slightly artificial tasting.

 

Anyway, our starters came really quickly. These were all cold, to A’s surprise. However, I had read online that the Sichuan appetizers are all cold so I knew what I was getting myself into. The first thing that came was the thin sliced pork in a garlicky sauce. This was amazing. The pork was indeed very thinly sliced, and there were some carrots and some white vegetable (probably radish) equally thinly sliced which were wrapped in the pork. The sauce was fantastic, and each individual piece tasted so absolutely fresh and lively.

 

The Sweet and sour spare ribs were advertised to be irresistible on the menu. Indeed, they were very delicious and truly irresistible. However, they were a few shades darker than the photograph in the menu, and slightly dry, but I’m nitpicking here. It was miles ahead of the spare ribs we’ve had in other places.

 

The next dish was Mouthwatering Sichuan chicken. The Chinese name literally translates to saliva chicken, which doesn’t sound appetizing at all, but once you try it you fully understand why. It truly and genuinely makes your mouth water. The dish is served in a bowl of chili oil, which may be extremely off putting for the health conscious, but what the hell; it was one of my favorite dishes of the entire meal. The chicken was perfectly cooked, still very tender and moist, and the thin layer of jellied fats just under the skin made it ultra-smooth and, for lack of a better description, mouthwatering. I think about this dish almost every day since I first had it, and it will be the very first thing I order when we go back to Bar Shu.

 

We ordered 2 dishes from the street food menu – The legendary Dan Dan noodles (I swear we’re not making these names up) and Boiled crescent dumplings in chili oil sauce. The Dan Dan noodles were much talked about online, but we didn’t like them. There was a weird spice used that didn’t agree with our palates. The noodles were nice though, but we just couldn’t get over that weird taste in the sauce.

The crescent dumplings however, were outstanding. It’s quite incredible how much flavor there can be in a simple boiled dumpling. All restaurants should take note and learn from Bar Shu’s example.

 

So far we were more than impressed with the food. We decided to go for just one main to share, and settled on something from the seafood section – Fragrant and hot on-shell prawns. This was one hell of an impressive dish. To begin with, the plate was HUGE. The prawns themselves were also enormous, and there was so much excitement on one plate it was quite exhilarating. This was incredible value for money, and easily one of the best examples of Chinese cooking around. (Sichuan, Chinese, whatever. It was damn good.)

 

It was truly a pity that we were limited by our stomach capacity, or we would have literally ordered the entire menu. Feeling like we could just about squeeze one more dish in, we ordered ‘Man and wife offal slices’ from the appetizer menu, which was mixed beef offal in a spicy sauce. This was just heaven in a plate. Even A, who usually refuses to eat offal, agreed that it was very good. Alas, our stomachs couldn’t fit more than a few bites in anymore, so we had to take away the remainder of this dish. When we ate it the next day it was still incredibly delicious. The best thing – it didn’t even need any reheating, since it is supposed to be served cold!

We could go on and on about how amazing this restaurant is, which is a huge surprise really, since pre-meal A was dead set against Sichuan food, after that one experience with Ma La hot pot and those offensively numbing seeds. However, after this meal in Bar Shu, our take on Sichuan food has been changed dramatically. We’re even willing to look beyond that chili-oil-all-over-every-single-dish issue. There is no doubt that we will be back for more Mouthwatering chicken, and try more dishes from their menu. In fact, we’ve already picked those dishes that we want when we go back.

Additional comments: Students get 12% off if you pay by cash.

Service: 8/10
Food: 8/10

Chiang Mai

48 Frith Street
London W1D 4SF
020 7437 7444

Chiang Mai is named after the Thai city of Chiang Mai. We’ve had several experiences with Thai food in London. Unfortunately they have been mostly disappointing; as we disagreed with the way it is adapted to suit local taste – more on that later. Location wise, this restaurant definitely got it right – it’s near the main action in Soho.

 

However, the food was really hit and miss. We started with a sharing platter of Thai snacks – batter fried prawns, chicken on skewers, spring rolls, crab cakes, pork ribs and a mysterious crispy honeyed noodle thing sitting in the middle of the plate. The dipping sauces were really good, and everything on the plate was decent, and did enough to whet our appetites. The tom yum soup was quite nice too.

 

Unfortunately this is where the compliments end. For mains we had Pad Thai and Green curry. We didn’t enjoy the Pad Thai at all. It was the horribly adapted version for Westerners that we were dreading. There was a conspicuous use of ketchup in the Pad Thai which was extremely off-putting. Shame on them. The Green curry was a ridiculously small portion, and we definitely felt that we could do better with the instant green curry pastes we have in our kitchen.

Overall, just as with most Thai restaurants we’ve been to, starters are done far better than mains. The exception is of course Addie’s Thai Café, which we absolutely love. That is the place to go for very good authentic Thai food that won’t blow your budget.

Service: 7/10
Food: 6.5/10