Earlier this year, I met Vi Vian for lunch at Old Tree Daiwan Bee, the relatively new Chinatown offshoot of the Old Tree Bakery up in Golders Green. You may remember that I visited the latter once and loved their pork chop rice and I was very keen to try their more centrally located restaurant.

The place itself is tiny with only bench seating for about 20 people. The small menu is full of Taiwanese favourites and as we couldn’t decide between it all, instead of ordering a ‘proper’ lunch, we ordered a few bits and pieces to share between us. Taiwanese sausage was served with slices of raw leek and were the sweet meaty sausages that I remember from my youth (the Chinese roast meat shops in Vancouver sold long links of them).

Taiwanese Sausage

An oyster omelette was, of course, the Taiwanese kind, with the gloopy red sauce on top. This was quite tasty with its layers of oyster, vegetables, egg and fried starch. Yes, it tastes better than it sounds.

Oyster Omelette

Taiwanese style salt and pepper crispy chicken may have looked dry but was anything but. Whoever’s in charge of the deep fryer knows what they’re doing – we were popping these into our mouths like they were going out of fashion. Wow.

Taiwanese Style Salt and Pepper Crispy Chicken

We still had space for sweets! I’ll admit that Asian attempts at Viennese cream cakes are not my thing (I always find the taste and texture of the cream to be a bit odd) but I was willing to try anything. A big puffy coffee cream bun was first to be ordered. There was a good coffee flavour in the cream inside (of which there was a lot!) the big choux puff.

Coffee Cream Bun

A matcha and red bean cake was also alright – again, this is more a reflection of my taste that the cakes there. I liked the matcha and red bean combo though!

Matcha and Red Bean Cake

Service, however, is surly and you’ve got to be quite assertive to even get your order in. Luckily, the food makes up for it. Still, it would be better if they could train their waitresses a bit better (this also goes for the Old Tree up in Golders Green) as they do occasionally go out of their way to ensure that you feel like you’re being a nuisance to them. I do hope to return though to try their other rice and noodle dishes.

Old Tree Daiwan Bee
26 Rupert St
London W1D 6DH

Old Tree Daiwan Bee on Urbanspoon

A friend of mine went on a last minute trip to the Dominican Republic last year and brought back a most interesting jar of cocoa balls for me. After a lot of questioning on Twitter, it turned out that this wasn’t for hot chocolate but for a Caribbean chocolate drink they call cocoa tea.

Cacao Balls from the Dominican Republic

I believe this is pure processed cacao, complete with cacao butter, in ball form. From what I gather online, they also come in sticks, which, though less aesthetically pleasing, are easier to grate.

Cacao Balls

Well, after many months of procrastination, I finally thought about making us some cocoa tea and opened the jar. I cobbled together a set of instructions based on what I found online and what was on the side of the jar. In a small pot, I placed half a stick of cinnamon, a bay leaf and grated in about 1/8 of a nutmeg. In went 500ml of semi-skimmed milk and the whole pot was set on a medium heat to simmer.

Spices

Meanwhile, I grated up one of the cocoa balls (each is about the size of a walnut). When the milk was simmering, the grated cocoa was added and whisked in until well combined. As there’s no sweetening in these balls of cacao, some sugar was also added to taste (about 1-2 tbsps, I think).

A Grated Cocao Ball

Finally, a little bit of cornstarch slurry gave the thin mixture a little thickness.

Cocoa Tea

The result was delicious! Not too sweet, a bit bitter, very deeply chocolaty but not in a cloying way. I might try to grate the cocoa ball a little finer as we were chewing a little on the larger cocoa nibs but this was not unpleasant. If you do manage to find cacao like this, do try it!

I was on the lookout for a little something different. We wanted some brunch before heading to the British Museum and I’m not sure how things connect up in my head but I recalled passing Maroush Bakehouse on Edgware Road on the bus and looking at it in curiosity. What did they serve? Was it just bread? A little googling helped to answer my questions – they did indeed have lots of bread but they also served savouries and sweets inside. In particular, their breakfast was highly rated. I had to try it.

We arrived at about 11:30 on a Sunday morning and it was packed with a mix of locals and tourists. We managed to find a quiet table at the back. Ordering mint tea got us this very grand teapot.

Mint Tea

We split a few items on the menu. A lahem b’agine was as I remember from my university days – it’s flatbread  topped with seasoned minced lamb and the only thing that would have been better is if they’d heated it up prior to serving it. Or perhaps put some pickles on top.

Lahem B’agine

We also got a Lebanese breakfast, which every other table also ordered – and we could see why! It looked brilliant, all full of colours and very appealing to the eye. This huge plate held an omelette, labneh (strained yoghurt), ful medames (cooked dried broad beans), cucumber sticks, tomato slices and a big pile of wonderfully bitter olives. And there was lots of olive oil drizzled over everything. It’s all wonderfully healthy and I have to give special mention to the ful medames because I really could have consumed just a giant bowlful of that that morning.

Lebanese Breakfast

To scoop up everything, a basket of freshly baked flatbread is also provided. Brown or white.

Freshly Baked Flatbread

It’s a great place for a breakfast that’s not your usual fry-up.

Maroush Bakehouse
45-49 Edgware Road
London W2 2HZ

There are other branches on Earl’s Court Road and in Knightsbridge and at Hyde Park Corner.

Maroush Bakehouse on Urbanspoon

Here’s another one from last year. I went to Southall one Saturday in search of a particular crunchy snack to bring back to my father in Vancouver. That search ended in failure (dammit, I can’t find that brand from Leicester anymore) but that day, I discovered a fantastic Sri Lankan place that served an a fantastic, budget-friendly lunch.

The place was Palm Palace, the lone Sri Lankan restaurant amongst all the Indian and Pakistani restaurants all around it. It’s a little grotty, a little dark…but my goodness, its food is fantastic. I ordered a seafood thali – and my choice of seafood was prawns (crab and fish were available too).

This is what arrived.

Sri Lankan Thali

This is the thali underneath the poppadom. That hard boiled egg is a good indicator of scale.

Under the Poppadom

It was fantastic! All the curries were medium-hot (which can be made Sri Lankan hot by request) and all were very uniquely spiced. The prawn curry had lots of curry leaves, there was an aubergine dish that was insanely good, that fried vadai on top was just like a gorgeous spicy lentil doughnut. And dessert! There was even a little portion of watalappam, a delicious coconut milk and jaggery custard, that you can see in the bottom left corner. There was plenty for one person and unsurprisingly, I couldn’t finish it all. Kudos to the waitstaff who offered to pack up the leftovers!

Remember that I said this was a budget meal? The thali cost £6.50. This and a glass of mango juice gave me more change than expected from a tenner. Definitely one to try if you’re not in the mood for the usual heavier grilled meats and creamy curries in the area.

Palm Palace
80 South Rd
Southall, Middlesex UB1 1RD

Palm Palace on Urbanspoon

When my friend KK visits London, he hits the ground running, eating at all the best and interesting places. And he can do this as he’s supremely organised, whereas I just bumble along and am not so great at planning in advance! Speaking of planning, yeah, even this blog post is a few months old as we dined here before Christmas.

Anyway, we both ended up ordering the same items off the lunch menu as our tastes are very similar. We first started with a salami plate (not on the lunch menu) – thin slices of their own house cured salami went down rather too easily. This was some glorious pork.

Salami Plate

Radishes, Black Sesame and Gochuchang was the first of the restaurant’s famous pre-meal snacks to our table. I loved the combination of nutty sesame, spicy gochuchang mayo and the crunchy fresh radishes. It’s a great snack to try and recreate at home.

Radishes, Black Sesame and Gochuchang

The restaurant’s famous Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Pine Salt were little cornmeal nuggets served on a bed of pine needles.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Pine Salt

Oak Smoked Cod’s Roe on Rye was like the best taramasalata you could imagine. Wonderful.

Oak Smoked Cod's Roe on Rye

Our starter of Roast Scallop, Chervil and Miyagawa Satsuma was the only dish that afternoon that didn’t work for us. While the scallops were beautifully cooked, the satsuma and chervil combination didn’t do anything for it and I’m not convinced that the combination even gelled well. I would have been plenty happy with the scallops on their own.

Roast Scallop, Chervil and Miyagawa Satsuma

Luckily, our second course of Roast Chop of Rose Veal, Chestnut, Spinach and Brussel Sprouts was excellent. Everything on this plate sang autumn – the chestnuts, the chestnut puree, the lightly cooked spinach, the tender sprout leaves. And that veal was truly just gorgeous – tender and pink and flavourful.

Roast Chop of Rose Veal, Chestnut, Spinach and Brussel Sprouts

Our dessert of choice, Amalfi Lemonade, had use scratching our heads at first. Were we going to receive glasses of lemonade? Our waitress assured us no! And what arrived was fantastic – white pepper ice cream topped with lemon foam and little crunchy tuiles. I loved that novel combination of the white pepper and lemon – peppery and zesty.

Amalfi Lemonade

On our way out, we peeped into the tiny little room where all the salami curing takes place. Neat!

Curing Room

With drinks and the salami and the lunch menus and service, it came to about £50 each. No, not cheap in any sense but it is a lovely treat. I’d love to return for dinner as they have a 5 course meal (with snacks) at £55.

The Clove Club
Shoreditch Town Hall
380 Old Street
London EC1V 9LT

The Clove Club on Urbanspoon

Did you watch the BBC series Italy Unpacked where Giorgio Locatelli and Andrew Graham-Dixon travel together around Italy, looking at gorgeous Italian art and eating gorgeous Italian food (their first series together was Sicily Unpacked)? Yeah, two of my favourite activities, together at last. On one recent programme, they traveled to Livorno, on the coast of Tuscany, and there Locatelli cooked an incredible looking fish stew from that city. The video clip where Locatelli cooks this cacciucco can be seen here. You can see why I suddenly felt the need to make one of these fish stews the next day.

The story goes that you want at least five different types of fishes in this stew, one for each ‘C’ in the word ‘cacciucco’; Locatelli mentioned 17 in the programme but this seems a bit over the top for just two or four people! Use as many as you can get – it’ll still taste great with just two or three different types of seafood. After referring again to the video and then to online recipes, I came up with the recipe below. It’s super easy; it’s only a bit of a pain getting the variety of fish unless you have a great fishmonger nearby.

Cacciucco

Cephalopods are first cooked in a base of wine, tomato and fish broth and after their long stewing, the fishes then spend a grand total of five to ten minutes in their delicious bath to ensure that they’re not overcooked. The finished dish is full of flavour and would make a great dinner party dish as it’s quite the showstopper coming to the table. Do make sure to serve it with lots of bread to soak up the lovely broth.

Cacciucco
serves 4.

2 tbsps olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large pinches of dried chilli flakes
3 tbsps tomato paste
about a glass of red wine

1 large squid, cleaned and cut into pieces
a handful of whole prawns
assorted other fishes – I used a chunk of monkfish, the tail end of some pollack, a couple of jacks (excellent) and a small red snapper

Fishes

For fish stock:
1 onion, cut in large chunks
1 carrot, cut in large chunks
1 bay leaf
parsley stems
fish trimmings
(or 1-2 cups fish stock)

For serving:
thick slices of a good white bread (a baguette will do)
a large clove of garlic
chopped fresh parsley (optional)

First, make your fish stock. I include a quick recipe for it here but if you’ve already got fish stock, by all means, please use it! In a pot, place your onion, bay leaf, parsley stems and fish trimmings (I used trimmings from the fish I was going to use in my cacciucco and the prawn heads). Pour over about 2-3 cups water and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Set aside.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and chilli flakes and continue stirring for another minute. Add the squid and saute for a minute or two. Add the tomato paste and fry until it darkens slightly. Pour in the wine and let it bubble way for a bit for the alcohol to dissipate. Pour in the fish stock (I used about 2 cups) and bring to boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and let simmer away for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes are up, it’s time to cook the fish! Place in the whole and larger meatier fishes first, let them have a little time in there, and add the rest of the fishes/prawns in stages. When everything is just cooked, turn off the heat.

Cacciucco Bubbling Away

Toast the bread and rub both sides with the garlic. Lay in a single layer in a serving dish. Carefully pile up the seafood onto the bread and spoon over the broth, making sure all that bread is soaked. Sprinkle with parsley if you have it.

Toasted Bread with Garlic

Serve with more of the broth on the side (dunking extra bread in it is so good).

Cacciucco

Korean/Mexican fusion! That’s the basis behind Kimchinary, started by Hanna Soderlund as a street food stand, and which has currently popped up at the back in The Catch Bar in Shoreditch. If you’ve been following this trend for a while (as I have – I love both cuisines), you’ll know that it’s been around in the States for a while now and Kimchinary is not the only place here in London that’s explored Korean fusion like this. However, it’s possibly one of the most talked about in the city as its menu is quite novel and exciting.

Anyway, by invitation, a friend and I headed to The Catch Bar for the launch night of the Kimchinary popup.

Kimchinary

That night, we had the opportunity to try a number of the tacos on offer (the menu may change since we visited). Tacos are priced at £6 for two and all come on freshly made corn tortillas (excellent!).

Buttermilk fried squid – Pickled pineapple relish, kimchi guac, herb salad – was delicious. The squid was fried to perfection and the accompaniments were excellent with it. I would have liked a bit more heat though – maybe a bit more heat in the kimchi guac or some hot sauce on the side.

Buttermilk fried squid - Pickled pineapple relish, kimchi guac, herb salad

To my surprise, the Braised cavolo nero – Soy pickled enoki, kimchi puree, queso fresco – was one of my favourites that night. There was some great contrast between the ‘green’ cavolo nero, silky mushrooms, tangy cheese. It was very well balanced.

Braised cavolo nero - Soy pickled enoki, kimchi puree, queso fresco

Corn flake chicken thigh – Doenjang buttered corn, potato salad, crispy chicken skin – was promising but needed a bit of kimchi to give it all a kick up the backside. There was a bit too much salt and something sour like lime was required to balance out the oily and creamy.

Corn flake chicken thigh - Doenjang buttered corn, potato salad, crispy chicken skin

“Bulgogi” ox cheek & tongue – Radish kimchi, blackened spring onion, horseradish – the bulgogi beef was delicious and the horseradish did give it all a great kick. I only wished there was more kimchi. Well, to be honest, I absolutely adore kimchi so I’d like lots of it all the time!

"Bulgogi" ox cheek & tongue - Radish kimchi, blackened spring onion, horseradish

The only non-taco we tried that night was the Dukbokki – Rainbow chard, crispy shallots (£4) – and this was my favourite thing to eat that evening. The sticky rice cakes had been deep fried, with a great crust, and then coated with a spicy sweet sticky sauce. Silky strands of chard and crispy shallots and coriander and sesame seeds completed the delectable bowlful.

Dukbokki - Rainbow chard, crispy shallots

Overall, the little bites need a bit more heat and a squeeze of lime here and there but they’re fine little treats otherwise, especially with drinks; I’m sure everything will be ironed out with time. Service at The Catch Bar, however, needs improving. But then I realise that this is a bar, not a restaurant, so I guess that’s ok. Kind of.

Thanks again to Hanna for the invitation! Kimchinary will be at The Catch Bar for three months from January 17.

Kimchinary at The Catch Bar
22 Kingsland Road
Shoreditch
London E2 8DA

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