Category Archives: London

Ciao Bella

86-90 Lamb’s Conduit St
Bloomsbury, WC1N 3LZ
0207 242 4119
http://www.ciaobellarestaurant.co.uk/

This is a little gem of a restaurant tucked away near Russell Square tube station. It’s always crowded it seems, and for really good reason – the food is rather good, portions are quite generous, and there is a good vibe in the dining area. Service is quite typically Italian, loud, warm, friendly and very macho.

We’ve been here a few times already, and we simply love the Spaghetti al Cartoccio, which is a tomato based seafood pasta cooked in a greaseproof bag, presented to you at the table while still in the bag and unwrapped before your eyes. The amount of pasta and seafood in that one serving is quite impressive, and it delivers on taste big time. The pasta is always perfectly cooked, which requires impeccable timing in the oven, and the sauce is full of rich seafood flavor.

We’ve tried other dishes at Ciao Bella, like the Gnocchi al Ragu, which is good but slightly too chewy perhaps, and the Carbonara, which is served in what is probably too large a portion for a dish that is so rich, but is nevertheless yummy and worth a try. Appetizers at Ciao Bella are quite small in comparison to their mains, but then again, they’re not expensive (most of the starters are under £6) and are generally very yummy. We like the bruschetta and smoked salmon.

Overall this is a really good place for solid Italian cooking. Prices are very reasonable and portions are large, so it does attract a large crowd so reservations are highly recommended.

Service: 7/10
Food: 7/10

Bryon II

This is the first time we’re putting a re-review of somewhere we’ve eaten at. The first time we went to Byron we didn’t think it was particularly good, so we gave it a 6.5 on food. We found the menu un-inspiring and the burgers decent, but nothing much to scream about. Many other food blogs have reviewed the burgers at Byron, and to our knowledge, they’ve all been giving it high praises. Every time we read yet another glowing review of Byron we cringe and wonder what the hell we missed out on that visit. So we decided to give it another shot, and do another review on it.

The menu is still as boring as ever. We settled on having a classic burger and with it 2 sides – macaroni and cheese, and a serving of skinny fries. The skinny fries were awesome, probably the best fries available in London by far – crispy and light, and they were mysteriously addictive. The macaroni and cheese needed a good sprinkle of salt to bring it to life. It was decent – was expecting more flavor from the cheese and a harder crust. (Yes, I love my cheese slightly burnt.)

The burger was simple and classic, just as it was advertised. The beef patty was very good – definitely many grades better than the one at GBK, and overall it was nice how such a simple burger could taste so good. We definitely think that presentation-wise much more could be done than to leave 2 slices of pickles on the plate as if they were an afterthought, but it seems like we’re the only people who think that way. Also, we definitely wished that we could have had more variety to choose from.

Byron has moved up half a point on food since our last review, and it now stands half a point above GBK, but half a point below Hache. Such a ranking is quite fair we think: the burgers at Hache are indeed better than the other 2; and we’ll forgive the lack of variety at Bryon in view of their better burger and place it just an inch above GBK.

Service: 7/10
Food: 7 /10

Gigs

12 Tottenham Court Road
London W1T 4RE
0207 636 1424

‘Fitzrovia’s Famous Fish and Chip Shop’, screamed the sign above the door. We’ve passed by this restaurant a couple of times on our way home, and we’ve always made a note to come by and try it one day. Fish and Chips isn’t high on our wish-list of foods, so we’ve always put off going to Gigs.

Coming from Singapore, you could say that we know our seafood really well. We have lots of fresh seafood back home, and we are of the opinion that seafood is best eaten with as few distractions as possible. Frying it will completely kill the freshness of the fish, so you can imagine why we aren’t massive fans of Fish and Chips, and why we don’t think very highly of the cuisine of this great nation, which prides itself on its deep fried battered fish.

Nevertheless, we are definitely very open to new experiences. With the claim of being Fitzrovia’s famous fish and chip (sic) shop, which better place to go to for our culinary revelation of the year than Gigs?

First impression: wow the restaurant is huge!!! Next thing we said: oh, it’s a mirror. The restaurant is actually pretty small, and it’s just adjacent to their take-away counter, which shares the same kitchen as the restaurant, so in a way the only difference between your meal and a take away is the take away box. The restaurant was about a third full while the take away counter seemed to have more customers – not a good sign.

We ordered a cod with chips, and a calamari with salad. When our dishes arrived the calamari came served with chips instead of salad. When we highlighted this to our server, who was the owner himself, for the next couple of minutes we heard him literally shouting at the cook in the kitchen, scolding him for messing up our order. It was almost like a scene from Hell’s Kitchen. The only difference is the food wasn’t very good.

The calamari was tough and rubbery, and we didn’t like them at all. The cod had a really thick batter and we could hardly taste the fish. The chips were thickly and sloppily cut, and weren’t even fried very well. The best things about the meal were the salad, which was nicely dressed and really fresh, and the curry sauce which was awesome.

We found the owner a very intimidating character. He was nice to us and his customers, but we got the impression that he had a really bad temper, not only by the way he shouted at the cook who mixed our order up, but also by the way he was talking to his entire staff. It was an incredibly uncomfortable experience sitting in the restaurant and listening to him verbally abusing his staff the entire time we were there.

We were very puzzled by the way the diners around us thanked the owner and told him the food was good when they left. We saw no less than 3 tables do exactly that, which left us wondering what we had missed out on. We kind of concluded that they were all afraid of being scolded by the owner if they had criticized his food, so they basically told him what he wanted to hear instead. That definitely sucks – someone needed to give him a reality check. Unfortunately we couldn’t pluck up enough courage to do that, so we paid and left quietly, never to return again.

Service: 6.5/10
Food: 5.5 /10

Koya

49 Frith Street
London W1D 4SG
http://www.koya.co.uk/

Koya is a rather new restaurant in Soho, serving Japanese udon. They have a couple of rice dishes (donburi) and side dishes as well, but the star of the whole restaurant is their udon. We’ve read many mixed reviews about Koya. The good reviews were just glowing – raving about how wonderful the udon was. The not so good reviews however, were a lot more tentative in their criticisms. None of them seemed to say outright that the food at Koya is bad. There seemed to be a kind of regretful lack of cultural/food awareness that explained why the author didn’t enjoy their meal. Most of such reviews would mention something along the lines of ‘perhaps we didn’t order the right dish’, with a note to return for a second try.

Our opinion: we think the food at Koya is really good. We had Buta miso (Pork and miso) udon and a Ten Curry Don (Prawn tempura and curry with rice). The Ten Curry Don came with the single largest piece of prawn tempura we have ever seen, and the curry was really nice. There was a very generous portion of curry, and it was full of flavor. The prawn was slightly over-cooked and a little underwhelming taste-wise as compared to the curry, but that tends to happen with extremely large prawns – it’s hard to cook them perfectly.

The star of the meal was the udon. The noodles were slippery and fresh, and there was a very nice ‘bite’ to the udon – almost like a good pasta done al dente. The udon came in a nice clear broth, which quickly became incredibly tasty once the miso was mixed in. The broth was far tastier than the miso soup, which was like a throwaway side that came with the curry don. That was definitely the best udon that we’ve ever had, and judging by the largely Japanese clientele that day, it’s probably one of the most authentic you’ll find in London.

We also had a side of Onsen Tamago (poached egg), and it was delicious, though K would have liked it slightly more runny. Another side that we had was the Kakuni (Braised pork belly with cide) which was also really good, but not as tender as the one we had at Asakusa.

Service at Koya is generally really good and courteous, just like what you would expect of a homely Japanese restaurant, but sometimes we struggled to get their attention, especially when it got quite busy. Overall this is definitely one place to check out. The udon isn’t cheap, but as far as we can tell, it is very authentically Japanese and undiluted by the need to pander to Western tastebuds.

Service: 7/10
Food: 7.5/10

Yog

Why oh why have we always walked past Yog and never gone in?!?!? Simple answer: we tried another frozen yogurt chain, Snog, at Westfield once and found it too sour, so we didn’t think we’d like Yog, but we’re definitely kicking ourselves for not discovering this place earlier than we did. In the span of 1 week we’ve been to Yog 6 times, and we just can’t get enough of it!

The frozen yogurt at Yog isn’t sour like Snog’s, and it’s really smooth and just about sweet enough to excite your palate. There are 2 flavours: original and pomegranate, both of which are light and refreshing. A variety of toppings are available (at additional cost) to make your froyo more exciting. We love the little mini oreos (the unhealthy option is always unfortunately the most yummy), bananas (make sure you get the fresh ones), strawberries, and K likes the passion fruit seeds.

This is the perfect place to hang out and have a little healthy dessert. Without going into too much detail, A insists that the frozen yogurt here at Yog is really good for regular bowel movements, if you know what I mean, so that’s another great reason to start hunting for the nearest Yog to you.

Service: NA
Food: 8/10

Gourmet Burger Kitchen

This is probably one of the places in London with 2-for-1 offers all year round. In fact, we don’t remember going to GBK and having to pay full price for our burgers EVER.

The burgers at GBK are pretty good and definitely extremely good value for money if you factor in their awesome 2-4-1 deal. However, having eaten at Hache, which offers probably the best burger we’ve had in London so far, the burgers at GBK fall a little short. Then again, the burgers at Hache are more expensive, and they don’t seem to do any budget friendly 2-4-1 deals at all.

The burger that K always goes for is the Avocado and Bacon burger, which is a towering creation of lettuce, tomatoes, a huge serving of guacamole, bacon, and a beef patty. The bun is lightly toasted, and is able to hold the filling quite well throughout your meal. That is, of course, if you’re skilled enough to eat your burger and not have it completely fall apart.

A lot of skill and practice is required to keep your burger looking like a burger till your very last bite. The gigantic satay stick that skewers your burger is the key. You hold the skewer and the burger, and cut portions from your burger like you would a pizza. Keep the stick in your burger, and don’t be afraid to apply lots of pressure to the buns while you cut around it – that way you don’t end up with a pile of deconstructed burger on your plate.

The beef patty isn’t the most phenomenal thing you’ll ever eat – it’s probably a cheaper grade ground beef as compared to the ones at Byron or Hache, but we really like the variety of burgers offered at GBK. While Byron has just about 6 burgers on their menu, GBK has easily twice that. The avocado and bacon burger provides many different textures and tastes – smooth and creamy from the guacamole, crunchy from the bacon, fresh and crisp tastes from the lettuce and tomatoes, and a good smoky aftertaste from the patty.

A favourite of A’s is the Habanero burger. This is spicy and tangy, and is full of flavor. The sauce can be a little too spicy on some days, but if you can handle the heat, this is one incredibly tasty creation.

Fries and onion rings can be ordered on the side. They used to serve skinny fries, but it seems like they’ve pulled that out of their menu and only offer chunky fries nowadays. Onion rings are a little too oily, but are really huge and fun (read: messy) to nibble on while you sip your rather diluted milkshake.

Overall, GBK is a good, budget friendly place to have a burger and hang out. They are extremely willing to cater to large groups – K once went with a group of 20+ people and they somehow managed to make space in the dining room for a massively long table and didn’t complain when the group sat around till around closing. Definitely worth a visit to take advantage of the 2-4-1 offers!

Service: NA
Food: 6.5/10

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