Monthly Archives: August 2010

Gelupo

7 Archer Street
0207 287 5555
http://gelupo.com/

Tucked away in a small street parallel to the ever-happening Shaftsbury Avenue is a gelato shop called Gelupo. Run by the same people as Bocca di Lupo just across the street, a (supposedly) very good Italian restaurant (we don’t know, we’ve never gone there to eat before), it sells gelato, sorbets and granitas, with a contemporary take on traditional flavours and techniques. (Personally, I just find that sentence really confusing, almost oxymoronic, but that’s what it said on their website, so here’s a huge SIC.)

 

We had, as we usually do, the hazelnut and pistachio flavor. We found the pistachio flavor really light and subtle, quite nice, but if it was slightly stronger we would have liked it better. Almost around the corner is Scoop, which we tried a while back (at their other branch in Covent Garden), and we much preferred that version since the pistachio was far more present in the gelato.

 

The hazelnut was definitely hazelnut-ty, but A complained that it was far too sweet, and that it was probably the sweetest hazelnut flavoured gelato she’s ever had. Well, perhaps, but since the pistachio was so muted I didn’t mind having a lot of flavor and taste in my mouth at all with the hazelnut. J

 Service: NA
Food: 6.5/10

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Baozi Inn

25 Newport Court 
London WC2H 7JS 
0207 287 6877

In most of the restaurants in Chinatown you get the very generic décor. In Baozi Inn however, they’ve made an effort in recreating the feel of communist China, and you kind of feel like you’re transported to a different place.

The feel of the whole restaurant is very, pro-communist party, if you get what I mean. The poster of Chairman Mao on the wall, with the couplets saying ‘The noble leader Chairman Mao, savior of the people’ with a very conspicuous CCTV above the noble leader’s portrait was very Orwellian, to say the least. Even the menus weren’t spared. Each had the words ‘People’s country’ (excuse my bad translation) printed over it, and a picture of a moustached man, perhaps the equivalent of a Stakhanovite, at the bottom.

But the décor wasn’t what we were there for. Baozi Inn doesn’t take any reservations (equality for all citizens, no favoritism allowed…I’m sorry I’ll stop the bad communist jokes) so since we didn’t fancy having to queue to go there, and were in the vicinity at about 5pm, we decided to have an early dinner and try the food there. We weren’t sure whether the food would be good, so we ordered just a few dishes to start with, and told ourselves that we would order more if the food was good.

First up was the steamed meat bun. This was very reminiscent of the ‘da bao’ (big bun) we are used to having in Singapore, so we were very happy with the way this tasted.

The next dish was the noodles with black sauce. This was pretty average. The only tasty element in the whole dish was the sauce, and I guess we were lucky that there was a rather generous amount of sauce all over the noodles. Without the sauce the dish would be virtually inedible.

The final dish we ordered was the dumplings in spicy garlic sauce. This was just baffling. The dish looked appetizing, with a good amount of chilli oil to give (theoretically,) a nice fragrance and flavor to the dumplings. Unfortunately, this dish was completely tasteless. The dumplings by themselves were tasteless, and we couldn’t even taste any seasoning in the filling as well. The sauce was also strangely tasteless, and we were both left scratching our heads in disbelief. This was just impossible! How could something that looks so yummy taste of nothing at all?

Unfortunately, we had enough, so we paid and left. What a shame. 

Service: 6.5/10
Food: 6/10

Asadal

Kingsbourne House
229-231 High Holborn
London WC1V 7DA
0207 430 9006
http://www.asadal.co.uk/

Location-wise, Asadal has got it right. It is literally next to the exit at Holborn Tube Station, and faces the busy junction between High Holborn and Kingsway.

The restaurant is in the basement and it far bigger than its tiny entrance would suggest. We went for a couple of the dishes that we usually order at any Korean restaurant, which would give us a good idea of how the food stands in relation to our favourite Korean restaurant, Bi Won, and also because we love those dishes anyway. D briefed us that the staff is quite picky to the way the food is served and eaten, and insist that they serve us.

First up was the Jap Chae. This is Korean glass noodes fried with beef slices and some vegetables. This version is very different to the Jap Chae we are used to. There is no fragrance of sesame oil in this dish at Asadal, and it is the first time we’ve seen beansprouts in our Jap Chae. Our impression of what Jap Chae should be has been formed by our experiences in Bi Won and Koba, so seeing a Jap Chae done in this way was quite a surprise to us.  We compared it to fried bee hoon, since essentially, if the glass noodles were swapped for vermicelli, the dish would be exactly like fried bee hoon! Can’t say we didn’t like it, since it was very tasty, but we kind of felt cheated that we didn’t get a Jap Chae (as we understood it to be). We’re going to Korea in October, so maybe when we’ve had Jap Chae in a proper Korean restaurant we will be able to comment more accurately on the different versions! Watch this space.

 

The Korean pancake is another dish we order all the time. In Bi Won we really like the Kimchi pancake, but Asadal didn’t have it on their menu, so we ordered Pa Jeon, the seafood pancake. This was very delicious, and texturally reminded us of Or Luat (Fried oysters with egg, a Singapore favourite, dammit I want a plate of good Or Luat so badly now…). The pancake was a little light on seafood I thought, but the spring onions were very fragrant, and it was not short on taste at all, so the seafood was kind of not missed too much. We had a Bibimbap as well, which was also very yummy.

 

Finally, we ordered 3 portions of meat to barbecue, and an assortment of sides like lettuce, garlic and chilli etc to eat the meats with. They were all nicely marinated and very delicious. The problem I have with Korean barbecue is that I tend to always feel like the portions are always quite small, so while the meats are really flavourful and delicious (or maybe precisely because they are,) I always wish they’d given me just one more slice than they did to satisfy me just that little bit more.

Finally, we had some green tea ice-cream, which was definitely very homemade, but perhaps slightly too milky for A’s liking. We sat and chatted for a really long time, and it was very nice that they did not drop any subtle hints to get us to pay up and leave (unlike those horrible people at most restaurants in Chinatown), so more points awarded in the service department!   

Service: 8/10
Food: 7/10

Baguette Hunting

We made a trip to Paris for their Bastille Day celebrations, and since we didn’t quite feel like having too much French food (all the cream and cheese isn’t quite A’s idea of a good time) we decided to make our food experience be about the search for the best baguette in Paris! Every year there is a competition for bakeries, the Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris, oh what a mouthful, to see whose baguettes are the crème de la crème. The winner of the competition gets to serve their baguettes to the President of France, and he’ll apparently only eat baguettes from that particular Boulangerie for the entire year.

Apparently, there’s a long and intricate history of bread in France. In the past, bread used to be made by hand (duh), but as technology began to develop, bread making starting being mechanized, and untraditional ingredients were added to make ‘bread’. Displeased with the bastardization of their proud bread making traditions, some French (insert snide French stereotype) artisan bakers, millers and experts fought against the new wave of rubbish bread, to preserve the integrity of French bread. In 1993, a law was passed (I kid you not) giving a special quality seal to breads made in the ‘proper’ way, and conferred upon them the title of ‘baguettes de tradition’. To make sure your bread gets that seal, it must be mixed, kneaded, leavened and baked in the shop, and nothing must be frozen. Only 4 ingredients are allowed in a ‘baguette de tradition’: wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. Now, go try making your own.

Alternatively, do as we did, and buy one from a Boulangerie. A good sign that your baguette is the real deal is that there are large uneven holes inside, caused by the bread having been kneaded by hand, a deep golden yellow hue, and a crust that smells nutty or grilled.

 

___________________________________________

La Truffle Noire
228, rue de Vaugirard
PARIS 15e
Tel: 0147345441

Since Bastille Day is a national holiday, most places were closed. Hence, the Boulangeries we planned to go to were shut. Nevertheless, we did manage to find a Boulangerie that was open, and it had a long queue outside, and everyone emerging from the shop had a baguette in hand! This was La Truffle Noire.

This was our first ‘proper’ baguette, so we didn’t really know what to expect. It was warm and nicely toasted, and the insides were fluffy and soft. In stark contrast, the crust was extremely crispy. It was definitely so good you could eat it on its own.

We bought this baguette while walking to the Eiffel Tower for the Bastille Day fireworks, and just after a couple of meters we almost finished all the baguette! Along the way along Rue Cambronne we saw another Boulangerie (can’t remember the name unfortunately), and entirely on impulse we went in and bought another baguette to benchmark our first baguette against. The second baguette was definitely not as good as the first one. The dough was a lot sourer, and did not taste as delicate as our first one. Nevertheless, it was a very good baguette, probably much better than anyone you can find in UK.

We brought our baguettes to the empty space at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and had a little picnic while waiting for the fireworks to begin.

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Fabrice Pottier
231 Rue de Vaugirard,
75015 PARIS

The next day, we went to Fabrice Pottier. This Boulangerie was first runner up in 2008. Verdict: Also a great baguette. We’re beginning to wonder how those judges for the Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris judge the baguettes. Perhaps to our untrained palates they taste the same, but the difference is indeed so subtle that I’d be surprised if they were able to pick the baguette from the Boulangerie that won from a blind taste test.

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Boulangerie Alexine (Alexandre Planchais)
40 Rue Lepic,
75018 PARIS

We really wanted to go and try the number one baguette in Paris. However, it was closed for the entire second half of July. (Gosh, what would the President eat?!?!?) Luckily, further down the street is another Boulangerie, which won 10th in 2008 and 8th in 2007. This was Alexine, and it had the loveliest staff we’ve encountered all trip. The baguettes at Alexine are incredible thin, shockingly thin in fact, as compared to the other baguettes we’ve had. Tastewise, they were also incredibly delicious.

As a side note, we went absolutely baguette crazy on our last day in Paris, and bought so many of them that we brought the ones we couldn’t finish back with us, and froze them. Till today we have 2 more baguettes in the freezer, and they still taste fantastic after a couple of minutes in the oven.

Chilli Cool

15 Leigh street
WC1H 9EW
0207 383 3135
http://www.chillicool.com/

The first time we went to Chilli Cool was for D’s birthday. We were in a huge group and all of us had the steamboat buffet, with 2 kinds of stock – chicken stock and spicy and numbing stock. The food wasn’t anything gush worthy, and most of us stayed clear away from the spicy and numbing portion of the steamboat as we didn’t enjoy the tingling sensation that biting into one of those pesky seeds would give you. As a result, A didn’t fancy the idea of going back to Chilli Cool to try their ala carte dishes, even though bloggers have been raving about it for quite a while now.

 

D and I finally managed to persuade A to go back to Chilli Cool. It was really quite an exciting day for the both of us, though A was understandably still very apprehensive.

The first that came was the ‘Saliva Chicken’ (Kou Shui Ji) and this was heavenly. It wasn’t as amazing as the version we had in Bar Shu, but it was still incredible. The chicken slices were so full of flavor, and the chilli oil was so fragrant that we could not stop eating this dish. This is precisely the kind of dish that you will remember when you leave the restaurant, and indeed, we think about this dish all the time, and have to consciously stop ourselves from salivating. (and I’m salivating as I type this)

 

The next dish was the ma po tofu, which also came swimming in a pool of chilli oil. This dish is very different to the Cantonese version often found in most Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. The spices used are very different, and I think the type of tofu is also different. The tofu used at Chilli Cool is not as soft as the one used in the Cantonese version of this dish. We can’t decide which we prefer, but perhaps because of the mindblowing-ness of the first dish, we kind of felt that this one disappointed us a little.

 

Our main dish was the shui zhu yu (‘water cooked fish’), which was basically a HUGE bowl of fish slices, once again, swimming in a pool of chilli oil. The fish slices were soft and had a lovely melt in your mouth quality about them and they were wonderfully flavorful. The bowl this dish is served in is so huge that it covered our entire table. The numbing seeds, so characteristic of Sichuan food, are clearly present in every dish at Chilli Cool, but unlike our first experience with the hotpot, we found that the seeds weren’t as offensive in the ala carte dishes. They were used far more subtly, and hence very easily avoided while eating.

 

Finally, we also had some steamed dumplings. After all those incredibly strong dishes, this dish was far more muted. D and I could hardly taste anything in the dumplings, though A insisted that they were very tasty.

Since our first visit, we’ve been to Chilli Cool about 2 more times already. Each time we make sure we order the kou shui ji, and we’ve always ordered 2 portions of it each time we went. It is indeed such a wonderful dish that we’ve already planned another visit sometime next week to have it again. We’ve also tried the kong bao chicken, the spare ribs and the prawns fried with chilli. All of them were fantastic, though we probably wouldn’t recommend ordering all three of them in the same meal since they’re kind of similar. One final thing to add: make sure you order the aloe vera juice, and get a full bottle to share – it’s amazing!!

Service: 7/10
Food: 7.5/10

Eastside Inn

40 St John Street
London, EC1M 4AY
0207 490 9230
http://www.esilondon.com/

We’re still buzzing from the high after our amazing meal at Eastside Inn. While we were in the tube on the way back we replayed various scenes from the meal in our heads, reliving every emotion felt and sense evoked as each dish was presented to us. The first sight, the first smell, the first taste, every memory of that fantastic meal was recalled. As we type this, there is a sense of nostalgia, the kind one feels when leaving a place that one’s lived in for years, and a sense of excitement for our next visit, which we have already made reservations for.

Indeed, this was the single best meal we’ve had this year. This award went to Roka last year, and we were planning to make another visit there to bid London goodbye just before we leave for good. Plans for that have kind of been shelved – for one, there’s been a fire at Roka and they’re closed indefinitely; secondly, we think that Eastside Inn might just possibly be our new most favourite restaurant in London of all time. So, yes, our reservations have been made, and we will be back on September 9th to celebrate K’s birthday (in advance). Can’t wait!

This restaurant is only a year old, but it runs like a well oiled machine. The attention to detail is remarkable for such a young restaurant, and from the moment you step in to the moment you leave, you’re made to feel absolutely at home. Eastside Inn serves French food. We’re not huge fans of French food, especially A, since she doesn’t like cheese, or cream, or anything with the texture of cream. We’ve both travelled quite a bit in France, and have eaten in many French restaurants. On one of our more recent trips to Paris, we ate at Taillevent, a restaurant which was awarded 3 Michelin stars for 34 years, and is currently a recipient of 2 Michelin stars. We’ve also gone more budget in Paris, and eaten in less posh places, but despite all these experiences, standing head and shoulders above all the places we’ve eaten at in Paris is Eastside Inn, in Farringdon, London.

Well, you could say that we’re not too fond of the French. They have a certain air about them that is quite off-putting. What we just love about Eastside Inn is that you can have really top notch French food without the French, if you know what I mean. Service is beyond excellent here, unlike what we’ve experienced in France. (We really don’t mean to slag off the French, but seriously, they don’t do themselves a lot of favours by the way they interact with non-French people, especially in France. But this post isn’t about a discussion of France and the French, so back on to the food.)

An amuse bouche arrived at the table barely seconds after we sat. These were nice and light, very reminiscent of the amuse bouche we had at Taillevent. Have to say though, the ones at Taillevent were better – more fresh and fluffy; the ones we had today at Eastside Inn sat around perhaps for slightly too long (but that could have been our fault – should have stopped staring at the cocktail menu), but then again, you would expect a 2 Michelin starred restaurant to pretty much kick everyone’s a**.

Appetisers – we had the sardine special, and the Char-grilled baby squid. The baby squid dish was really good. The fennel in the dish was a very interesting addition, and instantly we became fennel fans. The sauce was lovely, with a little bit of sweet, a little bit of salty, a little bit of sour and a little bit of a milky texture (carnation milk perhaps?). The sauce mixed together complemented the squid perfectly.

The sardine special was just out of this world. There was quite a lot going on on the plate, but everything came together really well. The sauce was once again tangy and salty, and the olive mash at the bottom was just incredible. 2 slices of toast were served to accompany the dish, and when paired with the sardines, balanced the strong flavours very nicely.

For mains, we had the Roasted Duck Breast and the pork cheeks. The roasted duck breast was amazing. The duck was cooked perfectly, slightly pink in the middle just like how it should be. The fat was very well rendered out, leaving a thin layer of duck skin on top of the meat, which was crisped to perfection. On the side were white and yellow peaches, which we thought were potatoes initially, and some watercress. The perfect bite would consist of a slice of duck (with the skin), a little bit of peach, and some watercress. With each bite you get the juicy, tender texture of the duck meat, the brittle, crispy texture of the skin, and a nice tart flavor from the peach. The combinations of textures and flavors were mind-blowing.

The pork cheeks. My oh my, those pork cheeks. And that sauce. Goodness me, that cauliflower puree was a revelation. That (lemon infused?) olive oil was also just ridiculously good. Words can’t describe how amazing that dish was. It’s not the prettiest looking dish in the world, but boy does it taste good. The pork was clearly marinated for a very long time, and a tonne of love went into that cauliflower puree. When I die and go to heaven, I believe this dish will be there to welcome me at the pearly gates. I could go on and on about how wonderful the dish was, but seriously, words can’t do it any justice. Best. Thing. I. Ever. Ate.

At this point in time we were very satisfied – not immensely full, but who needs to be immensely full when you’ve just had quality? We took a quick glance at the dessert menu, and weren’t feeling particularly inspired by any of their offerings, so we decided to pass. As we sat and chatted, mostly gushing about the pork cheeks, we saw this strange, almost apple strudel looking thing sitting at the pass. The manager must have seen us staring at it, and the next thing we knew, he had swung by our table with that dish, and explained that it was the Classic Dessert, the Mille-feuille, and it had just been freshly made. At that moment we knew we were going to have it.

While the dish was being prepared, a palate cleanser was served, and this was a juniper berry sorbet, wrapped with some whipped cream and some strawberries underneath. It was truly refreshing, and the strawberries were excellent.

Not long after, our dessert arrived. It was cut and plated table-side, right before our eyes. If there was one word to describe that dessert, that word would be GENIUS, all in caps. Who in the world would ever think of using olive oil, salt, bay leaves and thyme in a dessert? Chef Bjorn did, and it was absolutely mind-blowing. GENIUS. That man is one talented chef. The combination of flavours was extraordinary. You got the impression that you were having dessert, but the flavours were nothing like any dessert you’ve ever eaten, yet it’s all so familiar, and strange, and wonderful, and you try to figure out what you’re eating, and before you know it you’ve finished the whole dish. Yes, and I was very tempted to lick the plate. I think I might have, but I can’t be sure since my mind was struggling to comprehend what I had just eaten. This dish gives new meaning to the phrase mind-blowing. It is incredible, and the single most innovative thing I have ever eaten.

Obviously, the people here care about their food, and about their customers. The servers went around making sure everything was going well, and we even had a little chat with Justine, Chef Bjorn’s wife, and co-owner of the restaurant. We truly felt at home the entire time. As food critic Jay Rayner put it, people go to Eastside Inn “not to be seen or talked about, but to eat”. Indeed, it is a very unassuming environment, and the food is the star. Everything is made fresh there.

We overheard a conversation between the lady at the table next to us and Chef Bjorn, in which she asked if her dish could be prepared in a certain way. The chef replied that it would definitely be possible since they make everything from scratch, and she said that she would like the dish to have no butter. And he said ok. The kitchen has an open concept, and everyone can see the action that happens within. What we saw were a group of people who had a passion for food, and an immense dedication to quality control. Everything that came out of the kitchen was really good, and we simply can’t wait for the 9th of September to roll around for our next visit to Eastside Inn.

Service: 10/10
Food: 9/10

Asakusa

265 Eversholt Street 
London NW1 1BA 
0207 388 8533

We’ve heard nothing but praise for this little restaurant serving good traditional Japanese food at really bargain prices. There are only a couple of seats in Asakusa, and being as good as they are, reservations are absolutely necessary. We’ve made reservations on numerous occasions, but for whatever reason we’ve always had to cancel on them. (I’m sure my name and contact details are stored somewhere on a black list.) When the day came that we were finally going to honor our reservations, we were super excited. We went with MS, a friend of A’s who was staying with us for a while, and J, who would very kindly lend us his room for the period of time when we would be homeless after our lease ends (long story).

 

Asakusa is indeed a very small restaurant, and judging by the reserved signs on every table around us, it was a good thing that we heeded all the advice given to us and made our reservations in advance. In fact, making your reservations way in advance would be highly recommended.

Anyway, since there were 4 of us, we managed to try quite a good range of the dishes in their menu. First up was the Agedashi Tofu, which was pretty competent, though nothing to scream about.

The braised pork belly which came next was absolutely divine. The fat was just simply melt-in-your-mouth-scream-in-ecstasy good. The unagi (BBQ eel) was also very nice.

The grilled mackerel was outstanding – easily one of the best we’ve ever had. K also loved the skewered chicken livers (which only he ate, since the rest of us did not like chicken livers at all), and said that they were well seasoned and perfectly cooked.

 

The sushi platter was competent, though we’ve definitely had far better sushi at Kikuchi and Atari-ya. We also made the mistake of not telling them to keep our food wasabi-free, and so we had to pick the wasabi out from between the rice and the fish, and this distracted us from enjoying the food. Another competent dish was the cold soba noodles (which are quite hard to screw up anyway).

 

Not quite as successful was the assorted tempura. The prawns were absolutely overcooked and dry and hard as a result, and the batter was a little too heavy.

Also, the miso black cod was a huge disappointment. We were really looking forward to eating this, and were shocked at how cheap it was. However, when it arrived it already looked quite miserable, and unfortunately tasted really bad as well. The fish was overcooked, and lacked the silky smooth quality that a well cooked black cod should have. The seasoning was also quite strange. Well, I guess you get what you pay for. This was shockingly cheap, and as a result, it shouldn’t have been a surprise when it was shockingly bad as well.

Overall, we really wanted to like this place so badly. Unfortunately, there were so many glaring misses, and not enough spectacular hits that we left quite disappointed. We don’t think we’ll be in a hurry to rush back to Asakusa for another meal, but we can definitely see why it has so many fans and is ever so popular. Perhaps the secret is in knowing exactly what to order and what to avoid. 

Service: 7/10
Food: 7/10