Sunday, March 21, 2010


Hark! The British Spring beckons! We are seeing all the signs in London at least: sunglasses in the Tube, quintessential exchanges of weather in the office lift and people shivering on outdoor terraces. It's one of my favourite times of the year: the days become longer and this city sprouts in activity with fungal ferocity. Plus with the upcoming Bank Holiday hat trick and the Conservative/Labour face-off in May, these are exciting times.

Staying on the British subject, I feel all the more enlivened by my second home when I see all constituents of the U.K and Ireland on a single menu. Mark Hix's Soho venture has great regional representation with items like colcannon, black pudding and Welsh rarebit. It also nods to its colonial past with a monkfish cheek and prawn curry. This could actually be an extended version of the Great British Menu without those three pompous judges in the background.

The restaurant fits nicely in the arty Soho neighbourhood. Quirky mobiles like plastic fish in glass bricks and neon hula hoops around seagulls hang from the dimly lit ceiling over the bar. Best Friend and I gazed at these and considered our starters, an air-dried deer that came with pickled celery and cod's tongues on artichoke mash and hazelnuts.

The achingly soft deer tore away without resistance and was deep red like bresaola. Pickled celery gave a subtle vinegar tang that cut through the gamey meat.

Our discovery of the night were cod's tongues. A gelatinous flesh from the cod's throat, I can only guess these had been seasoned, floured and fried. Soft, SO juicy and very fresh, they were cod nuggets that didn't flake. Hazelnuts provided crunch to the fish and artichoke mash beneath. .

Best Friend's main: a sensational crunchy squid with garlic butter and wild boar bacon. What is wild boar bacon like? It's turbo bacon. Bacon that makes vegans convert and tempts carnivores into vampirism. Just bloody delicious.

By this time, Mark Hix's magnanimous spirit was clear. My ray, Morecambe shrimp and alexanders had bags of flavour and were of voluptuous proportion. The ray was so fleshy and huge I am embarrassed to say this got the better of Hungry Female.

We left extremely satisfied and practically proclaiming allegiance to the Queen. Hix epitomises Modern British cuisine and executes some traditional, and possibly lesser known ingredients with great success. Even at £40 a head, including a bottle of wine, our pounds and pennies were well spent. 

Hix on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ichi-Riki Sushi House

Underground restaurants you say? Currently a foodie phenomenon exploding all over the UK, it's as if everyone with a decent kitchen, lots of spare plates and some YouTube cookery tutelage has decided to play chef and open an underground restaurant or supperclub.

Now then, Ichi-Riki is actually a restaurant located underground. Near where I work is a lane called Strutton Ground but is lovingly known to its punters as Sandwich Street. So you can guess what is competitively sold there during lunchtime. And it gets very boring. As much as "Any sandwich filling fuh juzza pound noigh-ee-noine, larvf" is the economically wise choice in these frugal times, we all have to live a little and listen to our bodies. This day my body wanted sashimi.

So downwards from street level into the sweetest little Japanese restaurant. The waitress did her cutesy Japanese curtsy and giggle and showed me and and fellow foodie colleague in. The entire room could not have fitted more than 20 people and whilst underground, didn't have that bomb shelter effect. It even had the adorable sushi bar in the corner with paper curtains. The menu is not fancy, listing all your favourite Japanese comforts alongside specials of the day. We had to try the Soft Shell Crab Tempura special, which came with an unusual green sauce that made us think miso, with wasabi, perhaps some ponzu? A hint of chilli too, which complemented those crustaceans really well. Bits of leg, salty light batter and brittle shell fell apart in my mouth, as I thought "Why can't we have more??".

My own dish was salmon, tuna and trout sashimi over a mound of rice that lay on a solitary shiso leaf. Elegant, with excellent sashimi (I had Tsuru last week to compare with, you see!), I'm told by my colleague who's been to Japan numerous times that this quality of sashimi is all over Japan, though more elusive in London.

It's certainly elusive, and easy to miss amongst the baps and baguettes of haphazard Sandwich Street. If you're approaching from Victoria Street, walk along the left, until you see Crussh, Ichi-Riki is nestled in between that and a dodgy Everything-for-a-Fiver store.

For 1 special, 2 mains (including miso soup) and green tea each, it was £14 per person. It is sashimi and it is a great hidden gem with personal service, so my only gripe would be bigger portions. Other than that, give me underground sushi over sandwiches any day. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Prince of Wales

Oh hello there! Hello again to the most beautiful Scotch Egg I've ever seen. Hello to the Scotch Egg that changed my whole outlook on Scotch Eggs, the gastropub, what is British food and how the Prince of Wales gastropub on Upper Richmond Road should be a landmark for this small triumph alone. Have I made it absolutely clear that I'm obsessed with this Scotch Egg?

Before this experience, I held Scotch Eggs in the same regard as other English bits which are really popular but that I really detest. DETEST. Like trifle and rice pudding. Stodge that clots the arteries and gives me images of war time food. Previously, I wondered whether the eggs inside Scotch Eggs were actually real and not some weird hardened white and yellow gunk.

Enough about what I thought, I've now seen (and tasted) the light. Ordered by my fine friend who is a regular at this Putney establishment, when it arrived on black slate I knew I was in good hands. It had been freshly made, the outside was hardly the infamous thick floury crust but golden, crunchy and of single crumb thickness. The pork case was soft and spongy mince, mixed with herbs and reminiscent of Chinese dumpling filling. And finally its pierce de resistance: a perfectly soft boiled egg in the middle, sending me to self-saucing heaven. How did they make it soft boiled?!

From Nauseating Hatred to Raving Obsession, I've made a 180 degree turn on this humble snack. Call the restaurant, book a table and pre-order that egg. I predict a shortage soon.

The Prince of Wales' pub menu has the regulars: Beef Burgers, Steak, Roasts etc.. We also ate the fish and chips which was excellent (it's all in the details, their home made tartar sauce was generously caper-ed). There is also a restaurant menu which looks more bistro, average main courses are £13. Putney anyone?

Prince of Wales on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sake Tasting @ Tsuru Sushi

Yes, indeed - sake tasting! This was the first ever I'd heard about and when the invite said "to be paired with certain types of Japanese food", I knew this was one for me.

Tsuru restaurant is based in Southwark and at a stone's throw away from the Tate Modern. It could be easily passed off as one of those generic sushi places as it's nestled in between chain-stars like Leon and Starbucks. But it's far from it. Only 2 years old, it's proposition is organic and free range Japanese food, serving lunch by day and occasionally tasting venue by night. 

This night was hosted by Wakana Omija, a sake expert from the Akashi-Tai Sake Brewery, claiming "some of the sake tonight was made by my own bare hands!". A warm and engaging host, she explained that sake is essentially fermented rice and then refined into a liqour. Often drunk it short amounts, it's to calm and soothe you after a long day at work. 

There were 4 liqours to try with a food pairing:

1. Honjozo (served chilled)
2. Honjozo (served warm, with Free Range Chicken Yakitori)
3. Daiginjo (served with Miso Marinated Seabass)
4. Umeshu (served with Sesame Ice Cream Mochi)

Honjozo is the type of sake one would be acquainted with at sushi bars. It's your clear, grainy and wholesome sake that warms but never burns the throat. Makes you feel all mellow inside. I think it was served chilled and warm to illustrate that different temperatures can invoke different moods - chilled was expectedly more refreshing and sweeter. 

According to Wakana, the more "polished" the rice grain, the more refined the sake. And whether or not you use white or brown rice, has an effect on colour and taste. Akin to white and red wine? Hmmm. Daiginjo was then a "golden" sake made from brown rice, that particular one had been aged 8 years. I would liken it to a sweet sherry and went down nicely with a marinated oily seabass served on a rice cracker.

The fourth liqour was not a sake but an umeshu, a plum liqour. Have to say I was not a huge fan of that in itself, far too much like plum syrup. The sesame mochi was however divine! A sesame ice cream ball, rolled in black and white sesame seeds was delightful, light and held it shape without an overly glutinous casing. 

Being impressed with the sake and food, we stayed to pillage the menu. It wasn't actually very varied, but what we did order and try was satisfyingly good. 

What you must try: any of the chicken dishes! Chicken yakitori skewers were nicely browned and bathed in yakitori sauce. Chicken kare-age was superbly crispy, fried but light on the outside and extremely tender upon bite. Something that was a complete revelation to me were the fried chicken skin skewers. Not sure of it's actual Japanese name here but it literally is chicken crackling on a skewer. What a BRILLIANT idea!

And of course, the sashimi. Wow. Makes me wanna burst into song like those kids in Glee. I stop myself from using the over-used "melt-in-your-mouth" phrase, but it sure does fall apart nicely when I press my tongue against it. 

I would definitely recommend Tsuru if you're in the neighbourhood. Whilst it only does a cross section of Japanese food, I applaud its quality and wholesome food mission. I thought the tasting was well presented and the food pairings were good choices for the drinks. 

The tasting, including food pairings were £18 per head, and all other food (circa 8 dishes amongst 4) was another £16. 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Silk Road

Am just quite amazed at regional Chinese cooking in London, the scene is much more varied than when I first arrived in the UK nearly 11 years ago. You still get ignoramuses who think Chinese is fluorescent sweet and sour rodents and everything is stir-fried, but on the whole the cuisine's reputation in London has come a long way. So much so that I'm discovering Chinese food from my mother-ship I never knew existed.

My new discovery was Silk Road on Camberwell Church Road, and from the outside you never would have thought anything special. Seating is minimal in a bench and table arrangement, it's pretty humble bare bones stuff. It is regional Chinese food from the Xinjiang province, which Google Maps says borders Russia, Mongolia, all the "Stans" and India, i.e. top left China. How representative it is of that region, I won't know for now, though good numbers of mainland Chinese customers when we visited was encouraging.

So you get dumplings and noodles as you might do from other Chinese regions, but the highlights here are the kebabs. Immediately I could see the neighbouring influences to the region's cooking. What looked incredibly measly on their skewers were deceivingly spicy to which I didn't feel I needed more than my helping. Lots of cumin and chilli on lamb, it could have been Indian for all I tasted.

We tried prawn, egg and chive dumplings which must have been handmade due to their irregular shape. Wonderfully tasty and juicy despite not coming a sauce. And ridiculously cheap. For three Great British Pounds buys you ten nice sized dumplings. A prime example of how the Chinese can undercut at insanely good quality.

And lastly the hand-pulled noodles. We had ours with "Mixed Vegetables" that was really just tomatoes, green chilli and cabbage but with oodles of garlic and onion that made a rather good sauce.

Service was extremely attentive and friendly, which is very un-typically Chinese! What an interesting little place. Long may these small treasures bloom and grow in the unlikely dark lanes of mighty London.

Our rather ridiculously cheap bill!