Word on the East-Street, the pan-Asia(h) experience

Published on BespokeRSVP on 20th December 2011:

Pushing past a crowd of excited Asians, I spot a familiar looking blonde sitting at a low slung metallic table. As I was about to pull up an electric blue plastic stool, the screwed up face I saw was one of confusion. Upon closer inspection, this wasn’t a familiar face at all. Embarrassed, I quickly apologised and shuffled a couple of tables down, narrowly missing the low hanging light, before perching against another booth. Hoping that the neon adverts overhead will provide enough of a distraction from that little mishap, I surveyed the scene.

Soy and chilli sauce decorated the table, travel paraphernalia pasted the corrugated iron walls and the odd Lonely Planet guide was spotted lying around. Lined up against the simplistic tables were an eclectic selection of colourful plastic, wipe clean and metal chairs. This was the quintessential backpacker’s food stop – just where one needs to go on a gap-yah.

Heavy into the lunch hour, the place was a hive of activity. The tables around me were all heaving and laden with food. The open kitchen certainly did its part too, to fill my nostrils with exotic scents of chilli, tempura and a hint of ginger. A queue of people short of time soon formed at the crowded counter for takeaways. I almost felt sorry for them for having to take their food away when my fine feast of street food arrived.

The gentle crunch of the tempura vegetables offered contrasting textures to the goi cuon (rice paper rolls) while the coconut prawns cooled the fire of the kimchi served with the Bulgogi (marinaded grilled beef). Then just for the satisfaction of a full platter, gyoza and tod man khao pod (corn fritters) were served up too. Someone on the next table orders a cocktail, it arrived in a bucket with straws. Novel.

Snacking over, it was on to the more serious business of a beef panang curry with steamed jasmine rice – addictive stuff. That or the laksa (noodle soup), pad Thai, com Hué, bo luc lac (shaking beef)… You get the picture. Somehow the high flavoured power selection allowed room for something a bit sweeter. The bubor pulot hittam (sticky black rice pudding) wasn’t quite the sugar hit I was after so I was glad to be able to dip into some caramen chuoi ran (fried bananas) as well.

Lunch over and a pit stop at the on-site mini-mart later, I was out of the door and heading towards Oxford Circus.


I guess I forgot to mention that I was somewhere between Fitzrovia and Soho. East-Street on Rathbone Place in fact – the latest venture and seventh restaurant from Nick Jeffrey and David Fox, the restaurateurs behind mini Asian chain Tampopo. Jeffrey and Fox had both backpacked extensively through East Asia and fell in love with the food and culture, which then became the inspiration behind their restaurants.

Packed within days of opening, there were clearly many who came to relive their backpacking experience at East-Street but many more to just have interesting food. Within the habitat of that typical East Asian street food set up, I can understand why. After all, I had dined from Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan without ever leaving central London.

East-Street 3-5 Rathbone Place London W1T 1HJ

Patara, Greek Street

Published on Blue Tomato on 5th November 2011:

Patara, Greek Street, London

Thai restaurant Patara is full of Eastern promises. With four venues around London and more across the globe, it certainly has a good reputation and we were expecting a good feed. Food made with fresh ingredients and plenty of lemongrass and galangal was definitely top of that list, along with excellent service. Thais are known for their polite hospitality after all.

Oysters were in season so a selection of their finest Maldon rocks was an obvious starter. The raw huîtres arrived perfectly shucked and ready to be doused with a refreshing mint, coriander and lemongrass liquor or, if you prefer, lemon or Thai vinaigrette. Their tender soda-battered counterparts have a more spicy edge with an accompaniment of chilli dip. Of course we couldn’t neglect their signature dish miang guaytiew either, which was a delicate selection of rice paper rolls with prawn, crabmeat and five spiced duck.

For main, a grilled rack of lamb with sweet rice rolls and grilled black cod with ginger and pickled yellow bean sauce were richly accompanied by broccoli spears, pak choy leaves and shiitake mushrooms. It was a small banquet but a very healthy spread. From the selection of mostly European wines, we chose the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domain du Grand Tinel 2006 to wash it all down but their cocktails are equally excellent.

And there’s nothing quite like pulling out all the stops for the final course with floral additions to both the crêpe pollamai and the tart sangkaya. Under the spot lighting, we weren’t sure whether it was the desserts or the flowers that looked more delicious. So we had both.

Patara offered a pleasing supper but we were also surprised by the modernity of their menu. The meticulous presentation of the dishes demonstrated a very Western approach but some things, like bowed greeting from the staff, was undeniably Thai. Go and expect to be sumptuously fed, even late at night.

Catch at Andaz Hotel

Published on Foodepedia on 24th October 2011:

40 Liverpool Street, City of London EC2M 7QN www.andazdining.com

17th October marked the final night of the 2011 London Restaurant Festival, celebrated with an awards ceremony at Old Spitalfield’s Market.

Having dined out almost religiously for two solid weeks, it seemed wildly appropriate for our feasting to end with seeing Hedone’s Mikael Jonsson picking up an award for bravery as the first gong of the evening. Wildly, mostly because Jonsson and his partner had been attacked at the restaurant just a few days earlier but still returned for service the following day with fierce determination.

But on this night, only a short stop could be afforded before it was time to put down the Colchester rocks and chilled Laurent Perrier and head across the road to Andaz Hotel. Because while the feasting of London Restaurant Festival was almost done, mine of that evening was just beginning – an odyssey of fruits de mer awaited my friend and I at Catch, the seafood and fish restaurant of Andaz Hotel.

After attending the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival Conference last month, I was particularly taken by Catch’s proudly sustainable approach to seafood. Certainly, it would be even better if their environmental considerations were matched by well prepared dishes.

As we were seated, water and champagne were offered alongside an amuse bouche of pea velouté with cod. Declining the champagne in favour of a fragrant Gavi, we happily indulged our appetites with the intense smoothness of the velouté.

Despite hearing rumours that the Andaz team were out in force at the LRF Awards, it was reassuring to be informed that the head chef, Martin Scholz, was actually holding fort in the kitchen. It was also probably reassuring for my gilded friend to find that while it’s not the done thing for bankers to be out on a Monday night, the lighting was dim enough and the environs private enough to ensure some anonymity. Indeed, for this EC2 restaurant, diners on a Monday appear to be mostly guests at the hotel rather than City professionals.

I was rather tempted by the memory of delicately sweet Kumamotos, which rather unusually comes in fours or eights rather than a dozen or half; but having just slipped oysters moments earlier, I opted instead to open with a beef tartare adorned by Sevruga caviar. Seared Scottish scallops, richly furnished with chorizo and truffle, served the banker well as the other starter.

The generously portioned mains, while not as opulent as the starters, were equally rich. Cornish monkfish cheeks, Shetland mussels, Brittany clams sitting above a caramelised fennel risotto would offer a sumptuous feed for the heartiest appetites but after the starters, it proved to be more of a challenge for me. The banker, meanwhile, made his way happily through the Anglesey sea bass and pork belly whilst telling me how he liked the little hooks on the menus.

The desserts offered further nuggets of luxury with lavender marshmallows embellishing champagne peaches in one and mint mojito foam accompanying a lemon tart in the other. But then again, would you expect anything less at a five-star hotel?

As we supped on the last of the Gavi with the post-dessert almond madeleines, it suddenly occurred to us that perhaps three courses was a little too sumptuous on this occasion. For a lover of oceanic offerings, this would have been seafood heaven. For the occasional dabblers, the meats interspersed with the fish allowed for some brief break from pure seafood gluttony. For us, the fantastic service and fabulous food needed stomachs that weren’t already lined with champagne and huîtres.

Fifteen, Cornwall

Published on Blue Tomato on 16th August 2011:

View out to sea at Fifteen, Cornwall

Although a subsidiary of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Foundation, the Fifteen restaurant in Cornwall is actually owned by the Cornwall Foundation of Promise. This means that while the restaurant is influenced by Oliver’s passion for fresh produce and Italian cuisine, it should have its own identity. Given Oliver’s influence, we expected simple rustic food with a tonne of good quality olive oil and fresh salads.

Fifteen Cornwall, has been blessed with a stunning view that its counterparts could only dream of. We sat on the balcony – front row seats to the keen surfers’ twilight wave-riding, framed by the setting sun shimmering over the bashing waves. Below, dog walkers pat along the beach before it’s engulfed by the incoming tide.

The food on offer was set out on a tasting menu but with room for choice and optional matching wine alongside. Before we got down to the choosing, our waitress explained what the different ingredients were, where they were sourced and how they were cooked. For seasoned diners, this was a little over explained although for the less gastronomically experienced, it proves to be a good insight.

To start was the obligatory nibble of bread with olive oil but also Puglian olives and courgette flowers. As we opted to skip the insalata, the first set of mains to arrive were the raviolo of Lee Carter’s lobster and aged carnaroli risotto. While the fairly small portions were nice, they didn’t do too much to impress. That said, the raviolo seemed more ‘cheffy’ than the usual Oliver style.

What arrived next was the pan fried fillet of John dory and hand dived Cornish scallops. The scallops, though perfectly cooked, didn’t excite our taste buds. At least not like the panzanella which came with the John dory – the perfect tart side to the fish and the hot weather. We certainly wouldn’t object to another portion of those.

An Amedei chocolate cake and the Amalfi lemon tart made a rewarding finish to the meal, whether shared or savoured individually.

It’s interesting to see the fine amalgamation of Cornish and Italian ingredients together on a plate. Though the delicious food wasn’t extraordinary, the quality of the ingredients and the care in preparation was certainly impressive. Added to that mix is the fabulous view and excellent and knowledgeable service. The tasting menu makes it hard to have a simple meal but we would definitely go back when there’s good weather and buoyant appetites.

The Ebury

Published on The Arbuturian on 11th April 2011:

Whispers exchanged between passing Porsches have it that The Ebury counts a Royal-to-be as one of its regulars. The truth is, the well-heeled crowd that lounge in this Chelsea brasserie probably wouldn’t bat an eye if Kate and Wills strolled in arm-in-arm.

It’s not that it’s ridiculously posh. Well, I suppose it is a bit when you count the number of pearls adorning the necks of cashmered ladies; that is, if you haven’t been blinded by the light reflecting off their diamond knuckle-dusters first. But rather, there’s an overwhelming sense of privacy when you walk in, from the low lighting to the window blinds. You feel sort of safe and just blend in among the crowd, especially if you’re a Sloane. Besides, everyone seemed to be preoccupied with their own business which, for a privacy conscious individual like myself, is just fine.

I arrived first and scoped out a seat in the corner by the window – perfect for people watching or to plot domination of the London food scene in private. At 7.30pm, there’s a real buzz in the air and the place was filling up. For some obscure reason, Jonesy seems to think that it’s an obscenely early time of the day to be having supper, which, while I muse over the menu, I imagine was the reason why he’s keeping me waiting.

I began a slow tap on the table with my left hand, starting at my pinkie and working towards my index finger and then back again. Looking over the menu, I cast a furtive glance around the room for the first time. Considering the furore upstairs that was the joint 21st birthday of Tim and Ed, or some such young guns (who were all dressed in tuxedos, you understand, and smoking cigars, outside of course), downstairs was a mellow sea of families, young professionals and post-nesters. An eclectic mix I’m sure you will agree.

On my ocular exploration I happened to look out of the window. There was Jonesy. He has spotted me too, somehow, through the blinds and waved. I felt slightly duped by the false sense of privacy that the blinds offered – don’t sit by the window if you don’t wish to be seen.

“Have you been waiting long?” Jonesy asked breathlessly. Another one of Jonesy’s quirks is that he refuses to use public transport and instead prefers to either walk everywhere, as in this case, or catch a cab.

“No, I just got here actually” I say as I rose to greet Jonesy. It’s true, it’s only been five minutes.

As we sit down, Jonesy tells me he’s starving and tucks into the bread and butter offered while I stick to my water. I had already decided what I was ordering having looked over the menu at lunch.

Jonesy wants to get a burger.

“I’m not judging you,” I say with an unmistakable tone, “but you know if you get the ox tongue to start and oxtail for main, you would be eating from nose to tail?”

But Jonesy wasn’t having any of it. Clearly the Bohemian spirit from the ICA party the night before had caught up with him and he needed something comfortingly normal. So we both went with the chicken liver and foie gras parfait with grape chutney and toasted brioche to start. I’d like to think that I inspired Jonesy’s choice actually but I’m sure he will deny it. The parfait was great though, perfect you might say. And the grape chutney wasn’t half bad either except I kept imagining that they were mini pickled onions, which of course they tasted nothing like.

For main, Jonesy stuck to his guns and had The Ebury burger while I went for the confit rabbit leg with parmesan gnocchi, roast artichoke and tapenade sauce. I am probably mistaken but I detected a bizarre hint of soy sauce in my main, which in all honesty could have just been the complex fusion between the tapenade and the artichoke. The rabbit was fabulous, as was the gnocchi. It’s been some years since I last had rabbit and all those things you say about meat literally falling off the bone were all applicable here. Jonesy munched his way through that burger in no time at all so I guess that means he’s given it the thumbs up too.

Then it was on to dessert.

I have a mouth full of sweet teeth and Jonesy has precisely none. I was sure he was just entertaining me when he suggested getting a dessert so I could have two. It was too perfect to be true. Not so. Jonesy nibbled at the apple and Guinness fritters, probably so I would feel less greedy, before pushing the barely touched plate towards me. How could I resist? That said, after finishing my rhubarb crumble I was more than stuffed. Still, I made an attempt at it but try as I might, I couldn’t finish it.

In the end, I had to admit defeat and waddle out making extra room for my satiated stomach. No matter how good it was, finishing three whole courses plus an additional dessert was an impossibility for me. That’s not to say that I won’t be back to try again, of course. And next time I might wear my pearls.

The Ebury, 11 Pimlico Rd, London SW1W 8NA. Tel: 020 7730 6784. Website.