Monday, August 16, 2010

Wow Simply Japanese

Crouch End may not be the most obvious place for mind-blowing Japanese, but that's what we love - the unsung, the underrated, the unexpected.

Friends A & H suggested Monday night to try their local Japanese, Wow Simply Japanese. We jumped into our little rented Connect car and drove through leafy Hampstead to Crouch End. They had been given an inside tip from the waitress. Come on Monday night after the weekly delivery and be prepared to be in awe.

This waitress wasn't kidding...

Crispy Tofu steak: Genius. Covered in an irresistible panko shell, the steak was of the firmer tofu variety, elegantly fried and drizzled with teriyaki. 

Miso coated Aubergine: Marinated in dark miso, then baked, the aubergine was in effect a spread when it arrived in its own case. I love the caramelised flavours that miso produces when baked. 

Sea Bass tempura: Wonderfully fresh fish, coated in a light and feathery tempura batter. Interestingly, served with a dark soy and a spicy sauce.

Crab gyozas: The only disappointing dish of the selection. Gyozas should be slightly charred from being flash-fried then steamed in a pan. Though the filling was decent, it tumbled out in a soggy fashion from its casing. This functional flaw just means you get lots of mish-mash floating around in the dipping sauce and not much in your mouth!

Tempura scallop in seaweed, served with mayonnaise: One of the little surprises. Crunchy seaweed, heightened by that same feather-light tempura, the scallops inside were cooked perfectly. I'm always amazed at how tempura saltiness can be successfully offset by a creamy, tangy mayonnaise.

(Top) Tofu Nigiri and (Bottom) Special Wow maki rolls: Business time! Tofu Nigiri was the classic sweet tofu-skin case over sushi rice. What was really impressive were the tempura fried house rolls, filled with avocado, crab and mini ikura (caviar).

(Top) Spicy tuna rolls and (Bottom) Scallop sashimi: Bouncy and super fresh tuna and scallop. I'm certain there is something about this Monday night theory.

Bonanza! Isn't that a sight for sore eyes? Describing this regal selection of sushi is quite a challenge, but I can at least summarise the highlights. Tuna and salmon were exceptional here; melt-in-your-mouth doesn't even begin to describe these great pieces. Do also try the squid nigiri or sashimi, it starts with a crunch and then dissipates on the tongue. And finally, the green caviar coated rolls are the Fried Salmon Skin Maki rolls. Fried fish skin may sound slightly disturbing but believe me they are magical. Talking about roll reversal (pun intended): soft little caviar bubbles outside make way for the crunch inside!

Banana tempura and ice cream: This tempura is endless! Majestically presented, we can't escape this alluring batter that makes everything great. Admittedly the banana itself isn't sweet, but it's all about the batter.

In all glorious cringe-worthiness, this place will make you go wow. Another reasonably priced, hidden London special, it's worth a trek if you make it to this North London 'burb. If I haven't made it obvious enough, tempura and the crunchies are the house specialities. At £25 per head for all our dishes, free-flow green tea amongst four people, it's also a lesson in being friendly with the waitresses!

Wow Simply Japanese on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I've become somewhat of a camera snob since getting my SLR. Can you blame me though? Not quite an expert yet but am sure you'll agree it has the edge over these Blackberry ones. Apologies from Hungry Female Management, she will endeavour to not forget the SLR again!

So, Caravan. There's a song in there, something about being on the Caravan of Love? There is definitely a whole lotta food love in this place, it's a journey of many cultures, gastro-clashes and culinary mash-ups if there ever was. And it all works, which is why my heart (and tummy) swells with excitement when I recall our visit to this Exmouth Market newcomer.

How can I describe it? Since identifying the tapas trend in London, I see it going a step further. Caravan has a distinct influence of Chinese and African influence to the little and wholesome dishes it churns out. It's real talent to bring a unique take on such well-known and familiar dishes. Too many places in London have tried to "re-invent" a cuisine, only to do the food equivalent of a nightmare X-Factor contestant trying to become the "next" Madonna. Some things just don't work. This so does. 

A little complimentary amuse bouche to start, Cauliflower and Chorizo soup: A lovely flavour pairing. For me, spicy chorizo to creamy cauliflower is the sizzling sun to a white, sandy shore. 

Peanut and Blue Cheese Wontons with a Hoisin Sauce: Now on paper, this could have been a total disaster. Oh, quite the opposite! Crunching into the crispy skin, was a soft mash of peanut and blue cheese. This combo of nutty and creamy was a great balance of the two types of saltiness. Small dips into the sweet hoisin sauce was great too, I think this worked on the principle that salty and sweet succeed in cheese when the "weight" of both are similar. Kinda like manchego and quince?

Sharing platter of falafel, caponata, hummus, manchego and flatbread: Both dips were chunky and not refined,  really good textures and flavours. Cheese was as good as you can get. Now I'll come back to those falafels in a bit...

Seared tuna, salad with sesame and chilli dressing: the softest, non-sashimi tuna with the chilli dressing on the salad was just divine. A slight nod to Japanese with that sesame/tahini punch.

There are way too many falafels which are dry, uninspired and just sand in the mouth. These were marvellously crackly to bite into, and oozing with Middle Eastern chickpea magic inside. The combo of hummus and sweet chutney on the top really brought it together.

Lamb Chop with Broad Bean Puree: now this is how good it gets. The chop tore apart upon biting into it, the puree on top was robust and full of earthy goodness. It was like Cesc Fabregas in the Spanish football team, even this star was fighting to shine amongst the other greats.

Squid Pancake: Not the best picture, but this was one of the really interesting plates. We think it may have been like a pajeon (a Korean pancake) in how bits of chopped squid and vegetables were wrapped in a light crispy dough and dolloped with a sweet and nutty topping. Delicate, yet strong, the fishy, squid taste had infiltrated the pancake perfectly.

Oxtail with Polenta: Aye Caramba! This was super fusion. We really couldn't decide if this was Italian or Chinese. The oxtail sat in a mushy stew of polenta, which really looks like baby food (especially in this pic!), but it was an awesome punch of all kinds of flavours. I could get star anise, cinnamon, and even evaporated milk (I agree with you, Best Friend M!) from this crazy melange.

Spicy Pork Bun with a Spicy Relish: My jewel in the crown. For the cognoscenti, this is a Char Siew Pao on steroids. A beautifully roasted bun containing a porky, spicy filling, going in heavenly harmony with the sardine, shallot and chilli relish next to it. Then I hear that Usher song. Oh. Mah. Gawwsshhhhh.

Black Pudding and Rabbit Pate: Now by this time I had died and returned from heaven after that Pork Bun. I regrettably admit I don't actually have a strong memory of this dish. Perhaps this meant our taste buds had been saturated, or maybe we'd finally found an average dish?! I can remember it being decent, just not stunning.

(Top) Fruit & Ginger Cake, (Bottom) Chocolate Pud with Elderflower Sorbet: Oooph. Short and sweet, these desserts were little delights that ended on the right note. My favourite was the dark, sticky chocolate dessert which got a light uplift from the sorbet.

Ab Fab! For all those gems, the damage was £35 per head amongst four, including 1 bottle of bubbly and 1 red. Related to the Providores in Marlyebone, Caravan has made waves and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It seems to cater for all occasions: its casual buzz and service makes it great for catching up with friends, an adventurous bite after work and definitely a fun date place. Honestly, it's so good, are you ready for the time of your life?

Caravan on Urbanspoon