Monthly Archives: July 2010

Japanese Canteen

162 Tottenham Court Road
London W1T

Opening Hours
Monday to Sunday: 11:30 – 10pm.

In short, Japanese Canteen serves clichéd Japanese food like ramen and bento box meals almost like a fast-food chain, probably owned by non-Japanese, cooked by non-Japanese chefs (probably an insult to chefs to call the cooks at Japanese Canteen chefs), patronized only by undiscerning non-Japanese customers, and the food probably sucks.

 

Surprisingly, not all of that is true. Well, at least, the last bit isn’t true – the food doesn’t suck. That this isn’t true is probably the most surprising of all, but the food really doesn’t suck. That’s not to say that it’s the most mind-blowing gourmet discovery of the year, but it is as it is written – the food doesn’t suck.

We had the Chicken Curry Donburi with noodles (extra 50p for noodles instead of rice) and Pork Curry Donburi (with noodles as well) and they were both very satisfying, much to our surprise. The udon noodles were more than enough to fill us up, and the curry was actually pretty good, though slightly too watery. K really liked the little pickles added on top of the curry as well.

Overall, not bad if you’re looking for a quick and filling lunch. It won’t tick any gourmet boxes and there’s absolutely no service to speak of (it operates more like a take-away), but it is decent, and well, the food doesn’t suck.

Service: NA
Food: 6.5/10

Advertisements

Ping Pong

48 Newman Street
London W1T 1QQ
0207 291 3080

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

When your order of organic dragon well green tea comes served in a tall and very large glass, with a make-shift tea bag perched precariously on the rim skewered with a satay stick, you know your hopes of a nice dim sum meal are ****ed.

 

Indeed, we did not enjoy our meal at Ping Pong at all. Judging by the virtually empty restaurant, probably very few people enjoy eating at Ping Pong.

 

First dish that arrived was Oriental ‘spice’ pork crackling. This was by far the best dish of the whole meal, and it wasn’t even very crispy.

 

The next dish was a baked seafood puff. The seafood filling was tasteless and underwhelming, and the puff was completely wrong. It just felt like we were eating Cornish pasties instead of Chinese dim sum. If we had wanted Cornish pasties we would have gone somewhere else, so this was a major disappointment.

 

The other dishes pretty much all sucked. Chilli squid cake was bland and under-seasoned; Sichuan Emperor Selection was mostly inedible as it was sour and tasted like it had gone bad 2 months ago; Black prawn dumpling tasted and smelt of really foul cheese (who ever has heard of cheese/cream in dim sum?); Har Gao was tasteless and definitely not fresh; Coriander ‘hot & sour’ soup didn’t taste of coriander, but of something else really strange and unappealing, it seemed more like a mixture of sauces than soup; Gai Lan with Shallots and Soy Sauce was overcooked and lifeless – I can definitely do much better, and that is saying a lot; Satay Chicken Spring Roll was a total insult to satay, chicken, and spring roll; Seafood Shu mai looked unappealing and was just bland; Spinach and Prawn Wrap was tasteless as well; and the Pak Choi was again, overcooked and bland.

 

Some of the not so horrible dishes were: Spicy pork dumpling, this had really bad texture – far too slimy and mushy, but tasted alright; Char Siu Bun (spelt char sui bun on the menu) was not bad, but nothing special; Maodou (edamame) was decent, but then again, if you can screw up steaming edamame you have no business opening a restaurant; Crispy prawn ball – sauce was dreadful but the prawn balls were actually quite nice, and the crispy ribbons used to hold the prawn filling together was quite addictive; Chicken and coconut rice bowl – tasty, but there was too much coconut milk so the rice was soggy and by the way, this dish does not qualify as dim sum at all.

Overall, there was not a single dish that was good at Ping Pong. Dim Sum is supposed to be all about freshness and a lot of excitement packed into small morsels of food exquisitely made. The reality at Ping Pong couldn’t be further from that. There was nothing fresh about the food, and we definitely couldn’t feel any excitement from or for the food at all. We understand that the food isn’t meant to be ultra-traditional Chinese, and that the kitchen tries to experiment with flavors, fusing different cuisines together, but we feel that the combinations were all wrong. Perhaps the food was designed to suit Western tastes, so as to appeal more to the majority of their target clientele. However, judging by the number of customers we saw enter the restaurant that day, they have definitely failed in that aspect, by not only alienating themselves from the people who know what Chinese dim sum should be like, but also by alienating the people who don’t know what Chinese dim sum should be like, by serving substandard food, completely misrepresenting dim sum, and insulting their customers’ palates with such terrible cooking.

By the way, it was impossible to drink the tea as it was too hot to lift the glass, and it was really complicated trying to balance the tea bag, while trying to stop it from dripping tea all over the food, while trying not to burn your fingers, while trying not to scald your tongue while trying to drink the tea. 

Service: 6.5/10
Food: 5/10

Inamo

134-136 Wardour Street
London W1F 8ZR
020 7851 7051
http://www.inamo-restaurant.com/

 

After reading Pig Pig’s Corner’s review of Inamo, K really wanted to go there. It was quite strange how we’ve never heard of it until recently, even though it’s been around for about 2 years now. According to our server it’s been only recently when they’ve had an increase in media interest and public awareness. We think one of the best ways to get the word out is via food blogs, in this tech-savvy world.

 

Dining at Inamo is a lot of fun. There are no menus to flip and browse, and you have minimal interaction with your server. Instead, above every table is a projector, and your table is the screen. The menu is projected onto the table and you have your own little touch pad to scroll through the menu, or change the funky displays, or play games, or even to see a webcam of the kitchen at work! You order your food by clicking at the appropriate dishes and send your order directly to the kitchen. It’s one of the coolest restaurant concepts we’ve ever seen. (And you can’t complain about lousy service, because, well, there isn’t much service at all. Though a service charge –was- included in the bill.)

The food at Inamo is modern Japanese, very similar to Tsunami along Charlotte Street, but far more limited in their selection. (We also noticed some Thai influence in some of their dishes, and especially so in their sauces.) It was a struggle to find any sushi dishes, and any of those standard Japanese fare like udon or ramen. Nevertheless, we had so much fun with the interactive display that none of this bothered us.

The food came quite quickly. We were one of the few diners that afternoon, so it was no wonder that service was extremely efficient. It could be as well the way the restaurant is run – with the peopleless ordering system so there’s less to do on the part of the servers, so things run smoother.

Anyway, our first dish was the oyster shooter – and it was heavenly. Based on first impressions – Inamo gets an A+. The oyster was fresh and the lemon ponzu sauce was very refreshing.

 

Next up were the scallops – unfortunately these weren’t as good. They were a little too overcooked and slightly burnt on the outside. Our baby crispy prawns were also quite disappointing. We couldn’t taste any seasoning, and it was an overall very bland dish. The accompanying sauce however saved the dish. There was a very clear Thai influence in the sauce, and it brought the entire dish to life. However, we felt that the prawns shouldn’t have had to rely on the sauce to give it any taste, so overall this was a lackluster attempt.

 

Our Black Cod arrived next. With the toptable discount, this cost us just £7, which was probably the most unbeatable price ever for this dish in any restaurant. Unfortunately, there’s a reason to why this dish is so cheap at Inamo – it can’t compare at all to the same black cod dish at Nobu, or Roka, or even Tsunami. Firstly, the fish isn’t well marinated – in the middle it just tasted bland, and required the sauce to give it some flavor. Next, the fish was overcooked, so texture-wise it was way off. We suspect as well that the fish wasn’t exactly top-grade, so it couldn’t be too lightly cooked or it would show. The fish was not smooth and melt-in-your-mouth, like it should have been. Also, the dish wasn’t very refined – we could see bits of chili sauce in the spicy miso sauce, so clearly the sauce wasn’t very well made, and there were bones in the fish. Well, the argument may be made that for such a price one shouldn’t expect too much. That is definitely true, and it may be so that most people will be happy to settle for the black cod at Inamo since it’s way more affordable than at, say, Roka. However, the flaws in the dish were so apparent that we had to make a note of it.

 

We ordered a soft shelled crab roll, which was mediocre at best. Perhaps to satisfy the ‘fusion’ brief, rocket was added into the roll, which didn’t go well with the soft shelled crab at all. The soft shelled crab had too much batter as well, and wasn’t seasoned. It was overall bland, strange, and boring.

Other dishes we had:

Black faced lamb – overcooked, hence too tough, and not marinated well, but the accompanying vegetables were really nice.

 

Wild boar rolls– asparagus wrapped in a thin slice of wild boar. This was rather tasty. However, the meat was overcooked, but the asparaguses were delicious.

 

Ribs – the glaze was full of flavor, and everything was tasty (for once), but once again, this was a rather unrefined dish. The sauce was stringy and had strange bits of fiber in it.

Wagyu Bavette – Completely disappointing. The beef was tough, and uninspiring. The mushrooms were way too salty.

 

Tiger Green Prawns – these were very nice. The prawns were well grilled, and it smelt lovely.

Clearly we ordered a lot of food. We have a tendency when we go to a restaurant that we’ve never been to, to feel like we have to try everything in their menu that catches our eye, because we might never come back. In Inamo there’s really no need for this, since the interactive menu means that you can order as and when you want, but we completely forgot that we could do this, and ordered to our hearts content the first time round.

Overall it was a very amateurish attempt at modern Japanese food. The quality of the food isn’t very high, but the presentation is pretty good, and the price is unbeatable (with the 50% toptable discount). The interactive display adds to the appeal of the restaurant as well, so it’s one place that we think will do really well, despite the food. (Well, to be fair, the food wasn’t at all bad, it was just very amateurish and underseasoned.)

Additional note: 50% off if you reserve via toptable.com

Service: 8/10 (not a lot of service involved in this restaurant, but whatever service we got (ie food delivery, small talk while waiting for the card to process etc) was really polite and friendly
Food: 6.5/10

Ba Shan

24 Romilly Street
London W1D 5AH
0207 287 3266 / 0207 434 2234

We’ve been to Bar Shu, the sister restaurant of Ba Shan, and we loved it so much that we were very eager to go to try our Ba Shan as well. While Bar Shu serves Sichuan food (spicy and numbing), Ba Shan serves Hunan food, which is spicy and with much fewer of those pesky numbing seeds. We went with D for dinner one day, and we loved it just as much as we loved Bar Shu.

We started off with some drinks as we did in Bar Shu – lovely summery drinks with Mango, Lychee and Jasmine, one for the each of us. The mango and lychee were definitely better than the jasmine, which tasted like a concoction of chemicals rather than of jasmine.

First up, we had three items from their street foods section – flat bread with pork belly, a little stingy on the meat, but extremely tasty nevertheless. The steamed dumplings were also fantastic. The skin wasn’t thin like xiaolongbao, but it was springy and fresh, and the filling was very well seasoned. Some of the dumplings had a little soup in them like xiaolongbao, and we were very impressed that such a simple steamed dumpling could give us so much flavor.

The final street food we had was the pot stickers – guo tie. This was yet another very successful dish. The filling was once again very well marinated, and the crust was so crispy and light it would have been deserving of a Michelin star. Overall we were more than impressed with their street food, and we eagerly waited for the other dishes to arrive.

Ma Po Tofu was next. Once again, this dish was packed full of flavor. There were some numbing seeds in there, but since this was a Hunan inspired restaurant those seeds were used far more subtly than in Bar Shu. And it worked. This was ma po tofu done in a very different style from the other Cantonese restaurants just across the road in Chinatown – far tastier, and with surprising flavors with each bite.

K and D couldn’t resist the urge, and ordered a dish of beef innards. Unlike the equivalent dish in Bar Shu, this dish was served hot, and was also very tasty. The bits of beansprout and mushroom underneath the tripe and whatnots provided a nice cleansing contrast to the oily sauce it was swimming in.

The star of the meal was the steamed sea bass. This came in a massive plate – almost the size of one of their tables, and we ordered 2 portions of noodles (on top of the one that came with the dish) to eat it with. The noodles were excellent – fresh and perfect for soaking up that wonderfully spicy sauce that the fish came in. This was by far our favourite dish of the whole meal – and mind you, there were many good dishes we had that meal. The fish was steamed to perfection, and there was simply nothing that you could criticize about that dish. It was just mindblowing.

Overall this was one of the best meals in a Chinese restaurant we’ve ever had. Naturally, it comes at a price – Ba Shan, like Bar Shu, isn’t the cheapest most budget-friendly restaurant. However, the food is amazing, and that alone is enough for a repeat visit hopefully in the near future.

Service: 7/10
Food: 8/10

The Anchor and Hope Gastro Pub

36 The Cut
London SE1 8LP
020 7928 9898

We went to The Anchor and Hope with a friend of K’s and her fiancé. This is a gastropub located near Southwark Tube Station, and they do not take any reservations. (Apparently they get really busy. We were there very early, so the place was virtually empty when we arrived.) There were a few items on the menu which caught K’s attention (for better or for worse), for example the deep fried pigs head, and rabbit offal on toast. It was quite an easy decision to go for the Seven Hour Swaledale lamb shoulder, with peas, mint and aioli. According to the menu, it is good for 5 to share, so we didn’t order any sides to go with it. We were told that it would take about 25 minutes before it would be served.

 

When it arrived it looked gorgeous. It smelt heavenly as well. It was big on flavor, and the huge chunks of meat were a dream come true. The meat was tender and juicy, (from all that 7 hours cooking) and just slid off the bone. It was easily one of the best lamb dishes we’ve ever had (though the Iceland one still remains our absolute favourite ever). The vegetables and broth were definitely on the salty side, and after we got over the initial wow factor we noticed the amount of oil in the broth, but K clearly didn’t mind, and he finished every last bit of food left on the plate, peas and all.

Overall this was probably one of, if not the best experience with British food we’ve ever had. It should be quite obvious from a quick glance at the tabs column that we are not big on it. One of our French friends once told us that he’d rather die than eat British food. We don’t exactly feel quite as negatively towards the food of this great nation, but it’s no secret that we don’t find it very interesting at all. There are no exciting flavours or culinary techniques involved in the British food we’ve come across so far. Our meal at The Anchor and Hope hasn’t changed our opinion on British food, but it has at least given us a very positive experience with this cuisine, and we’re very glad that we went there and ate what we did.

Service: 8/10
Food: 7.5/10

Hummingbird Bakery

155a Wardour Street
London W1F 8WG
020 7434 3003
http://hummingbirdbakery.com/

Opening Hours:
Monday to Saturday 9.30-8pm
Sunday 10-7pm Sunday

We’ve tried a couple of cupcakes from Hummingbird Bakery, and they’ve all been quite good.

Their red velvet is famous, and it deserves to be so – it is moist and rich. Their green tea cupcake (a Wednesdays special) is also a winner. In fact, the green tea cupcake is definitely A’s favourite of all. Perhaps the only criticism is that the icing is really heavy and decadent. You can distinctly taste the butter (and sugar) in the icing, and it really does make the cupcake quite sweet.

 

We ordered a chocolate cake from them for LM’s birthday, and it was much larger than we expected. It was so tall that it took quite some effort to cut into it. Once again, the icing was really sweet, but the cake itself was excellent. It was the spongy kind instead of the creamy kind of cake, which was just the kind of cake that LM likes.

Food: 7/10

Il Mandarino

Via della Condotta
Firenze, Italia

Yes, it’s strange to be eating Chinese food in Florence, but we had with us S, who was quite sick, and wanted some Chinese food, so we asked around, and were directed to Il Mandarino, along Via della Condotta. The first time we were there we had take out, since S was back in the hostel room resting. We got her some wonton soup and a seafood noodle soup. While waiting we chatted with the waiter, and we discovered that Il Mandarino is the only Chinese restaurant in the neighbourhood. They rely a lot on tour groups from China and Japan who go there for meals. Their location is quite unbeatable, literally a stone’s throw from the Uffizi, and so rental is extremely high.

We can’t comment on the quality of the take away, since we didn’t eat any of it. In any case, we told them that the food was meant for our friend who was sick, so they made sure that they prepared the food with minimal salt and minimal oil.

The next day we went there for lunch, since S was still quite under the weather. We were there before opening hours, but they let us in anyway. Sure enough there were 3 tour groups there for lunch while we ate. The servers were all really nice, and wouldn’t stop apologizing for any shortcomings in service or service times since they were really busy catering to the tour groups. This was truly night and day from the horrible service one would get in a Chinese restaurant in London.

 

The food was quite average unfortunately. The Cantonese fried rice that S had was quite nice, though she did complain that it was a little to oily and salty.

I ordered the seafood noodle soup, and there was obviously a dash of vinegar added to the soup, which I didn’t really like.

A had steamed rice with tofu, which was really yummy and satisfying, and also some sweet and sour pork, which was also quite nice.

Overall, the food isn’t anything to rave about. They clearly don’t rely on repeat business since they cater mainly to tour groups, who have no choice of restaurants, and go along with whichever restaurant the tour company has decided on. However, we were very impressed by the service and by how accommodating they were to our requests. It is for this reason alone that we have included this review in our blog.

Service: 8/10
Food: 6/10