Restaurants


I suspect my new neighbourhood is full of little gems that need wheedling out. One that never needed any investigation is An Nam, a Vietnamese restaurant in the Wing Yip Centre on the Purley Way. Their chef has won local awards and while it’s not as crowded as Tai Tung (the Cantonese restaurant) at the front of the centre, they more than hold their own. We’re pretty much regulars there now.

However, we’ve mainly had their starters and one dish meals – very similar to the casual street food you’d encounter in Vietnam. On our most recent trip, we brought my brother along and he gave the place a hearty thumbs up – the kind of thing I like to hear from someone who did a long work placement in the country! Anyway, we didn’t eat all that you see below on just one visit; this must have been over at least four, I reckon.

I love Chả Giò (£4.50) and the version here at An Nam is fantastic. I love the sticky, crispy rice paper wrapped pork rolls and I love that they’re served properly with the lettuce and herbs and pickles, all to wrap around the fried rolls.

Chả Giò

Gỏi Cuốn Tôm (£4.50) are the fresh summer rolls filled with salad, rice vermicelli and prawns and their rolls are light and not at all stodgy like others I’ve had.

Gỏi Cuốn Tôm

Their Bánh Cuốn Thịt (£4.50) are definitely one of our favourites. These thin rice rolls are filled with seasoned minced pork and mushrooms and are just gorgeous with all those herbs and the usual side of nước chấm. They do have a tendency to slip out between one’s chopsticks though!

Bánh Cuốn Thịt

Bún Chả Giò (£6.50) makes a meal of the chả giò with the addition of the bún (rice vermicelli) and salad and pickles (daikon and carrot). Pour over that nuoc cham and dig in!

Bún Chả Giò

Bún Thịt Heo Nướng (£7) normally has bún but we can substitute rice…which is what we clearly did here. This is accompanied by fabulously delicious grilled marinated pork slices, complete with crispy edges. And there’s a generous pile of the thinly sliced, tender pork too.

Bún Thịt Heo Nướng (but with rice)

Wait for it…..Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò (£7.50)…. combines the best of both worlds – the grilled pork and the fried rolls.

Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò

Chả, Bi, Suon Nướng (£7.50) is another rice dish which can also be served with bun. There’s a grilled pork chop (drool, so good), a slice of steamed pork and egg loaf and shredded pork and pig skin; it’s a winning combo.

Chả, Bi, Suon Nướng

It’s not all just stuff on rice and noodles. They have noodle soups too. Their Bún Bò Hue (£7) is a spicy bowl full of thick rice noodles and tender stewed beef. This really hit the spot on that cold night when our heating wasn’t working yet!

Bún Bò Hue

We are going to have to try more of their main dishes soon though. A spicy steamed aubergine we ordered as a side vegetable for dinner one night was brilliant – the soft, silky, steamed aubergine had been sliced and laid flat and then topped with a mixture of soy, garlic, chilli, scallions and fried shallots.

Spicy Steamed Aubergine

Next on my list to try there (if you can tear me away from any of the bun bowls) is their deep fried fish – I saw a massive platter go by our table one night and it looked fantastic. Their pho is also pretty solid as is their fried rice (why is Vietnamese fried rice always ridiculously good? What secret ingredient do they put in there?!). The only thing that was a dud so far was a random pork udon soup we once ordered but if you stick to the Vietnamese classics (and anything that says it’s their specialty), you won’t go wrong.

An Nam Vietnamese Restaurant
Wing Yip Centre
544 Purley Way
Croydon CR0 4NZ

An Nam on Urbanspoon

A group of us headed to the new branch of the Big Easy in Covent Garden last Sunday night to try their barbecue, after hearing quite good things about it. We were led down to the basement when we replied in the positive to a question as to whether we’d like to be near the live band. It became clear to us that this place was huge and even on a Sunday night was packed with family groups, couples, friends. And each table was groaning with huge platters of food – seafood and barbecue. It’s loud, it’s bustling, it’s huge – it’s all quite American really.

Drinks first. A fresh watermelon juice (£3) was refreshing if, ironically, a bit on a small side. A friend’s watermelon juice with a shot of tequila was deemed nasty however.

Watermelon Juice

We could see around us that portion sizes were huge and our waiter confirmed it, giving us the thumbs up when we decided to split a few things. The Grand Appetizer Platter For Two (£19.50) was split between four. Please forgive the horrendously blurry photo but I’m hoping it gives you an idea of the size of it!

Grand Appetizer Platter For Two

There were Voodoo chicken wings (great), Pit-smoked Bar.B.Q. wings (alright), Hush puppies (excellent), Calamari (very good), Deep fried jumbo shrimp (pretty good). Nestled in the middle of it all was a token amount of dressed salad leaves – I actually did eat most of it, realising that this was the only bit of vegetal matter I’d be consuming that night. The platter is definitely a good deal but if only two people were to consume it, I’m not sure they’d have any space left for anything else!

For our main course, we again split two orders of the Bar.B.Q Blow Out (£15.95pp, minimum 2 people) between four. This gave us a generous portion of their Pit-Smoked Bar.B.Q Chicken, their Dry-Rubbed St Louis Pork Ribs, and their Carolina Pulled Pork. Their pulled pork was quite good – meaty and tender  – and their ribs weren’t too bad either. I just wish there had been more of the rub on the latter – the accompanying gravy boat of barbecue sauce wasn’t entirely to my taste. It was fine, but just a bit to sweet and … sweet. The chicken was very moist and tender (at least my drumstick was) but again I found the sauce on the skin a bit on the sweet side – and yeah, to me pork > chicken.

Bar.B.Q Blow Out

Some sides were included: Pit smoked beans, the annoyingly named ‘Slaw, Potato salad, Cornbread, Barbecue sauce. The cornbread was pretty good, not too dry. The coleslaw and potato salad were both fine if a bit dull. The beans I thought were excellent, with a great smokey flavour.

The Bar

On our way out, we noticed the bar for the first time and it’s quite a gorgeous one. Oh, and the band? Not bad! The food overall is a bit of a mixed bag. I might return to try the seafood but I suspect it’ll be a bit hit and miss too. It’s a good spot for groups though and its central location is certainly a plus.

Big Easy
12 Maiden Lane
London WC2E 7NA

Big Easy on Urbanspoon

After many many years in West London (Acton), we’ve now moved to South London (Croydon). It’s quite a change but transport in this area is pretty good and we can both get to work quite easily from here. Anyway, I thought I’d do a round up of our favourite places to eat in Acton – some I’ve blogged before and some I never got around to blogging. I do miss them all but I’m also quite excited about trying all the places in our new neighbourhood.

Pinto Thai – Ah, one of our favourites. In addition to their usual a la carte menu, they also offer an excellent lunch deal, as shown below in the first photo.

A last lunch in Acton at Pinto Thai. Pad kra pao made with minced beef. Hot hot hot!

Thai dinner

Fried Sea Bass

Pinto Thai Kitchen
46 High Street
Acton
London W3 6LG

Pinto Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

L’Oriental – I never blogged about this one and I’m not entirely sure why. This tiny Lebanese place has been on Churchfield Road for years and the local community association holds their dinners and quizzes in their basement. Their food is great and I only recently discovered their excellent lunch deals.

Today is all about cleaning our old flat... And that requires fortification in the form of Lebanese chicken kebab and chips and salad.

Lebanese Takeaway

L’Oriental
94 Churchfield Road
Acton
London W3 6DH

L'Oriental on Urbanspoon

Woody Grill – Again, another one never blogged. I like the Turkish dishes they usually have in hot water baths on display and their kebabs are pretty tasty too. Why don’t I have any photos of the food?!

Woody Grill
187-189 High Street
Acton
London W3 9DJ

Woody Grill Acton on Urbanspoon

Persian Nights – This one I did blog! I love this restaurant and its party atmosphere on a Saturday night!

Khoresht-e fesenjan - Persian walnut and pomegranate stew with chicken

Kabob koobideh with freshly baked nan

Persian Nights
379 Uxbridge Road
London W3 9SA

Persian Nights Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sanabel Lebanese Bakery – This is a little Lebanese bakery and cafe in between Acton and Ealing Common and I loved their freshly baked manakeesh with zataar or spiced lamb. Their falafel was pretty good too as were their whole grilled chickens.

Falafel at the local Lebanese bakery

Picked up dinner at our local Lebanese bakery and these had just come out of the oven

Sanabel Lebanese Bakery
387 Uxbridge Road
London W3 9SA

Laveli Bakery – This one’s down Churchfield Road and is right by Acton Central overground station. It was the second branch of a bakery that originally opened on Askew Road near Shepherds Bush and it was the first proper bakery in the Acton area. We went there often for their excellent breads and pastries.

Breakfast at Laveli.

Lunch

Laveli Bakery
5 Churchfield Road
London W3 6BH

Frank’s Cafe – This is our go-to cafe for fry ups. I usually order one of their gigantic omelettes – mushroom and cheese for me! One of those will set you up for the day.

Omelette and Fry Up

Frank’s Cafe
128 Churchfield Road
Acton
London W3 6PJ

Ciambella – This Italian cafe and restaurant just opened a few weeks before we moved out of the area but we just managed to squeeze in a light dinner there, splitting one of their excellent thin crusted pizzas. Their homemade desserts are also excellent! Again, no photos.

Ciambella
257 High Street
Acton
London W3 9BY

CJ’s Cafe – Another never blogged. By day, they serve fry ups and some rice and noodle dishes. By night, they have a full Thai and Malaysian menus. I really like their nasi goreng and mee goreng.

A day of packing is fueled by mee goreng at a local cafe

CJ’s Cafe
15 The Vale
London W3 7SH

C J's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Not far from where we used to live in Acton is Ealing Common and we had a few favourites there too.

Kiraku – Ah, another favourite. The best time to eat there is lunch as their lunch menu is more affordable and full of great sets.

My half udon, half maguro yamakake don lunch set at Kiraku

The husband's yakiniku lunch set this afternoon at Kiraku

Dragon Roll

Kiraku
8 Station Parade
Uxbridge Road
Ealing Common
London W5 3LD

Kiraku on Urbanspoon

Atari-Ya – This Atari-Ya is on the site of the old Sushi Hiro. Their sushi is still excellent.

It's too hot to cook - sushi time!

There’s also an Atari-Ya shop at West Acton.

Atari-Ya
1 Station Parade
Uxbridge Road, Ealing
London W5 3LD

Atari-Ya on Urbanspoon

Mugi – This little Serbian cafe sells delicious boreks, which we often bought for takeaway. Their spit roast pork and cevapi were also excellent.

Boreks

Spit Roast Pork

Cevapi and Chips

Mugi
15 Station Parade
Uxbridge Rd
London W5 3LD

Mugi on Urbanspoon

Duri – I don’t seem to have many photos of food we’ve bought from Duri, a little Korean shop in Ealing Common. Here’s a Korean Pear that we tried; it was ridiculously sweet and juicy. They have a couple of tables for you to eat their bibimbaps or jjigaes that they serve hot in the shop.

Korean Pear

Duri
9 Station Parade
Uxbridge Road
London W5 3LD

Natural Natural – This isn’t actually a cafe or restaurant but a Japanese food shop with a great selection of ready made meals in their fridge. I like their bentos; the Japanese kids with their pocket money like the skewers of karaage and croquettes.

Chicken Karaage Bento

Natural Natural
20 Station Parade
Uxbridge Road
Ealing Common
W5 3LD

Yo Yo Kitchen – This one’s not in Ealing Common exactly but a little further north at West Acton. It’s a little Japanese deli with bentos and sushi and other bits and pieces and it’s extremely popular with local Japanese families and the schoolchildren from the local Japanese school.

Yo Yo Kitchen
4 Station Parade
Noel Road
London W3 0DS

Yoyo Kitchen on Urbanspoon

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something but I hope I haven’t! Do let me know if there’s anything I should add to this list!

At Ravenscourt Park (between Hammersmith and Chiswick), there’s a massive Polish Social and Cultural Centre with a library, bookshop, cinema, jazz club, and, of course, a restaurant and cafe (amongst many other services). I, of course, was keen to try the final two.

We headed to their main restaurant Lowiczanka one Saturday night and just managed to grab one of the last tables for two (we hadn’t made a reservation but it was clear that we should have!). This was prior to Christmas and there were lots of groups dressed up and partying. There was live music and disco lights and a dancefloor and couples would just randomly get up and dance. We felt very underdressed.

We skipped starters that evening and went straight to mains. Sausage with hunters stew was a large grilled specimen served with a sauerkraut based stew cooked with various porky bits.

Sausage with Hunters Stew

Blai’s breast of duck served with cherry sauce was the real winner – a large roast duck portion with a sweet and tangy cherry compote. It was even served in a baked apple, though this could have been baked for longer.

Breast of Duck served with Cherry Sauce

These were served with beetroot and carrot salads..

Beetroot and Carrot Salads

…and we also got a sour cabbage salad as we didn’t originally order the beetroot one. Plus one for service!

Sour Cabbage Salad

Overall, the mains were fine though not spectacular. We were a little surprised at the atypically modest portion sizes; in our experience, most Polish restaurants have massive portions.

Much much better were their desserts! I chose a coffee gateau while Blai had some ice cream. It was all brilliant in an old-fashioned kind of way; I almost expected the desserts to come out on a trolley!

Coffee Gateau

Ice Cream

Lowiczanka Restaurant
First Floor
Polish Centre
238-246 King St
London W6 0RF

We took a peek at the jazz cafe before we left and it looks fantastic! It’s a great space with seating at tables and on the floor (with pillows) and if I were a fan, I’d definitely head there.

On another afternoon, I popped into their cafe on the ground floor for a quick lunch; it’s a much more casual place and the prices reflect that. Mixed pierogi were calling out to me and I opted for a mixture of sauerkraut+mushroom and minced meat. They had all been fried in lard and were hearty and comforting, with their sides of carrot and beetroot salads. I preferred the tang of the sauerkraut+mushrooms perogi, finding the minced meat ones a bit heavy (perfect for winter though!).

Mixed Pierogi (Sauerkraut + Mushroom and Meat

Their cake selection was looking incredible that day (it was a Saturday afternoon) and I chose something I’d certainly never seen before – this cheese and apple slice. The biscuit layers were amazingly light and melted in the mouth while the yellow cheese layer was like a cross between custard and cheesecake. All that and the applesauce layered in between, mmmmm….

Cheese and Apple Slice

If you do see their cheesecake on the counter (sernik), do ensure you get a slice! Their baked cheesecake is amazingly light and fluffy and we love it!

Last night I discovered Polish sernik, a baked cheesecake that's my most favourite cheesecake ever so far. It's so light and fluffy!

Cafe Maya
Ground Floor
Polish Centre
238-246 King St
London W6 0RF

Personally, I prefer the casual cafe to the more formal restaurant upstairs but for classic Polish food, both are pretty good bets.

I’d been reading up on Sri Lankan cuisine when I came across a dish called lumprais (or lamprais), a banana leaf wrapped parcel of rice cooked in stock, with curries and cutlets included. The word is supposed to have originated from the Dutch lamprijst, meaning ‘packet of rice’ and I could only imagine how all those flavours melded after being baked together in that parcel. Needless to say, I became a bit obsessed with it and to my delight, I discovered that a Sri Lankan restaurant in west London (Northfields, specifically) served it.

Here was their lumprais (£14). Now, there are set rules as to what a lumprais must contain and whilst this one broke all the rules, it was still delicious – here everything was served on a banana leaf instead of being baked within it. As well, not all the components were present but was included was fantastic. There was the rice cooked in stock and embedded in that mound of rice was a fish cutlet. There was a rich and robust mutton curry and a ‘special’ aubergine curry that was all silky and tangy and seeni sambol, a luscious sambol of caramelised onions, dried fish and spices.

Lumprais

To round out our dinner that night, we also had a couple other dishes to eat with it. Devilled chicken (£7.50) was a delicious dry chicken stir fry with lots of pepper and spice, onions, peppers and tomatoes.

Devilled chicken

Dhal spinach (£5) was a chef’s recommendation and was a soothing combination of dal cooked with fresh spinach leaves.

Dhal Spinach

To eat with it all? One plain hopper (£2) and an egg hopper (£3). I love the crispy edges and soft centres of hoppers, and their slightly fermented flavour reminded us a bit of Ethiopian injera. And yes, that egg on the right hand side had a beautifully liquid yolk.

Plain Hopper Egg Hopper

I couldn’t resist the vattilappam (£5) on the dessert menu. We’d tried this already at the Buddhist temple dinners and this version was equally as good – it’s a creamy set pudding of coconut milk, brown palm sugar, eggs, spices and cashew nuts.

Vattilappam

I can’t believe I didn’t discover this place sooner as it has always been here in West London near where I live! I do suspect that the heat levels had been toned down for us (us loser non-Sri Lankans!) but I’m sure you could get true Sri Lankan heat in your meal if you ask!

Papaya
161 Northfield Avenue
London W13 9QT

Papaya on Urbanspoon

My Instagram feed probably gave it away but I was in Belgium last week for work. Sadly, the excitement of the novelty of Belgian food has now worn off for me – it was probably the endless chips, dairy and mayo that did it. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with chips, dairy and mayo but when encountering some combo of the three at almost every meal….well, yeah, I needed a break.

On our last night in Leuven, we were, to our relief, brought to an Italian restaurant. I think I’d been expecting an average Italian restaurant, perhaps catering for the cheap-and-cheerful student population, but what I was not expecting was a brilliant Slow Food restaurant. And that’s exactly what Ristorante Rossi is.

We had all been booked in for their €35 3-course menu; there’s also a 5-course menu, an a la carte option, and occasional themed menus that reflect one particular region in Italy. The restaurant itself is quite small and quaintly decorated with vintage Italian signs and red and white checked tablecloths. On that Thursday night, the place was packed (Leuven, being a university town, has a busier Thursday night than Friday night. On Fridays, the majority of the students go home.) and buzzing, and the food on the surrounding tables looked excellent.

Anyway, first was an amuse of vitello tonnato on crostini. I love that classic combination of creamy tuna sauce with mild and tender veal.

Vittello Tonnato Crostini

Next was a giant pea and cheese arancino sat on a bed of pea puree, drizzled with pesto. This generously-sized ball of fried risotto (about the size of my fist) went down easily and I may have also helped myself to my friend’s unfinished portion. I clearly had no idea of the size of the next few dishes to come.

Pea Arancino with Pea Puree and Pesto

The pasta course was spinach and ricotta ravioli in a fresh tomato sauce with mint. This was fabulous (such an unexpected combination) and I could have gorged on this for my entire meal. But good thing I didn’t. I was again offered my friend’s extra ravioli but I just couldn’t manage anymore, especially when I saw the fish that was to come!

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Tomato Sauce and Mint

Our main course was that fish I saw – I’m not entirely sure of the species but it was a white fish that flaked easily and had been cooked with a delicious crispy skin. This was served with a celeriac puree, a creamy gravy, green beans and to my utter surprise, seared foie gras! And that little blob of dark green in front? A pesto of parsley and pistachio, from what I could gather – gorgeous stuff.

Fish with Foie Gras and Celeriac Puree

Dessert wasn’t included in the menu and I opted to share a massive serving of tiramisu (€6,50). This was gorgeous, with lots of coffee and quite light, just as I like it. Look at those distinct layers!

Tiramisu

I forgot to get a photo of the little squares of chocolate cake that came with coffees and the bill – the two layers had been sandwiched together with cream and Nutella! Dreamy!

It’s not the cheapest restaurant in Leuven (not sure if the students from the main university go there!) – our meal (with drinks and desserts) worked out to €50 per head. I definitely recommend it and definitely also recommend making a booking before you go.

Ristorante Rossi
Standonckstraat,2
3000 Leuven
Belgium

Every so often, I need to make a trip up to Kenton (zone 4, Bakerloo line) for work and if you’re familiar with the area, you’ll know what a dearth of restaurants there is there. Luckily for me, there is Ram’s, a pure vegetarian Indian restaurant that specialises in the food of the Gujarat.

For £4.99, one gets access to the lunch buffet in the back of the restaurant. There’s always some kind of rice, salad, poppadoms and freshly fried puris brought straight to your table. There’s at least two curries and some kind of starter and some kind of sweet too. Everything tastes fresh, service is friendly and there’re always a few people tucking in. I’ve been a number of times now and here are photos from a few visits.

Bhel puri, tomato curry, channa masala, jeera rice.

Indian vegetarian buffet for lunch

Potato bhaji, mung bean curry (one of my favourites), paneer tikka masala, vegetable biryani.

Freshly fried puris at lunchtime

This was not the buffet but my friend’s lunch thali – two veg, rice, rotis. It’s a little pricier but then you get the choice of what veg curries you want. It’s now changed a little according to their latest menu and it’s £6.90 for two veg, rice, three puris, dal, papad and pickle.

My friend went with the lunch thali

Back to the buffet. Spring rolls with chutney, potatoes, chickpeas. The puris are addictive!

A late lunch at Ram's in Kenton

This was my latest meal there a couple weeks ago. I’m a bit upset that they switched their lovely compartmentalised trays for these giant platters – I like keeping my curries separate!

Dhokla, mung bean curry, dhal, green bean and potato curry. The carrot thing turned out to be dessert (gajar ka halwa), all sweet and highly scented with cardamom.

Buffet Lunch at Ram's

They’ve got an a la carte menu but I rather enjoy the lack of choice with the buffet! Don’t let the fact that the restaurant serves vegetarian food put you off – everything is wonderfully spiced and I love trying out the different curries. And come on, I mean, puris! Deep fried breads! Highly recommended if you’re in the area for lunch.

Ram’s
201-203 Kenton Rd
Harrow HA3 0HD

Ram's on Urbanspoon

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