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

We all slept in on our first day in Tokyo – that day at the onsen and the harried trip on the shinkansen the previous day had really taken it out of us. We slowly made our way to the famous Tsukiji market to see what we could and to grab some lunch. When we got there, we were, of course, too late to see any action at the wholesale seafood market but luckily, all the restaurants in the market surrounding Tsukiji were still going strong.

We joined one of the random queues outside the restaurants and soon realised we were lining up for Nakaya Donburi, a restaurant specialising in rice bowls topped with all sorts of seafood but really specialising in tuna. This was one of the pictorial menus outside the restaurant (really, two separate tiny shops but with one queue).

The Menu

The queue went much quicker than we expected and after taking it in turns to wait in the queue and wander around the market, we suddenly ended up at the front. We perused the pictorial menus intently and placed our orders before we were even seated.

And then we were in! The two separate shops making up the restaurant had similar configurations. There was a long bar that sat about a dozen people, elbow to elbow. Each shop was also ridiculously narrow and on the other side of the bar was essentially part of the kitchen.

The Counter

The tiny kitchen extended to the back. Yes, it’s minuscule. It was impressive how quickly the bowls were put together and how quickly one could be in and out.

The Kitchen

Pickles and tea were set out for us as soon as we sat down. A brilliant miso soup arrived not long after. See those blue post-its at the top of the photo below? My order was written on those.

Pickles and Tea

I had chosen a donburi with four different tuna preparations: ‘regular’ tuna, fatty tuna belly, chopped tuna and chopped fatty tuna with green onion. One of the men at the counter indicated how we should take the lump of grated daikon and wasabi and dissolve it into our little saucer of soy sauce.

Tuna Donburi

In addition to the donburi, you could order all the toppings as individual side dishes. Because I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by, I also ordered a side of uni (sea urchin).

A Side of Uni

Oh yes, this was a brilliant lunch – all the seafood was extremely fresh and tasty and did I mention it was a relative bargain too (for London standards)? This all came to 2500 yen (about £15). It was definitely worth the wait!

My Lunch

I know that this Tsukiji market will cease to exist at the end of this year as the wholesale market will be moved to a brand new building. What will happen to all the fantastic restaurants, like this one, surrounding the old market?

Nakaya Donburi
Tsukiji 5-2-1 building #8
Tokyo, Japan

We were in Nagoya for a work conference and for each day of the main conference, we would each pick up a bento box and juice/tea box for lunch. Now these were clearly mass produced bento boxes (they would have required about 1000 bento boxes per day) but the quality and variety of the food in each box was astounding.

On the first day, we received this beauty. It was a bit rice heavy but the fried fish, prawn (I got a second because my colleague couldn’t eat hers) and little hamburger were lovely. Everything was delicious.

Day 1 Bento

Our second bento was in the most beautiful box that I even managed to keep and bring back to London (after emptying out the food covered dividers!). Again there were three lots of rice but this was improved by having one of the rices cooked together with carrots and mushrooms. The sweet included in the top right corner was a curiosity – two large beans cooked in syrup! In the top left, there was an excellent braised tofu bundle filled with vegetables. Of all the bentos we had at that conference, I liked this one the best.

Day 2 Bento

The bentos handed out on the third and last day had one of its rices in the form of a Nagoya speciality – tenmusu, an onigiri with a prawn tempura in it.  This last box was a bit fried-heavy (the tenmusu, the prawn, pork in the middle and karaage in the top left corner) but just look at the designs printed on the food dividers!

Day 3 Bento

We even got a taste of ekiben, the railway bentos that can only be purchased at train stations or at special ekiben fairs. After our time in Nagoya, we took the shinkansen to Tokyo and while I bought this katsu-sando (most convenient for a train journey where you’ve not got a tray because your suitcase is in the way)….

Tonkatsu Sandwiches

….my colleague purchased this chicken yakitori ekiben that’s one of the specialities of Nagoya. He said it was brilliant.

Alessandro's Ekiben

I only wish there had been more time and more stomach space for me to try more bentos on this trip!

When the Korean healthy restaurant chain Bibigo opened in London last year, critics slated it but mainly for the very high prices they were charging. I had crossed it off my list a while ago but someone recently said that they had had a good meal there and it was enough to pique my curiosity again. I see now that they’ve addressed the price issue with a £9 lunch special (the “lunch club menu”) and a £12 early dinner set menu in addition to the usual expensive a la carte options. We tried the latter one recent Saturday afternoon (yes, also available on weekends!) and were pleasantly surprised.

For £9, you get a starter and a main course. Of the starters, there was a red chicken (I suspect crispy chicken pieces in a gochujang hot sauce) and a seafood pajeon; I chose the latter. To my disbelief, this appears to be a full sized order! I really enjoyed this pajeon; unlike many heavy greasy ones I’ve had in the past, this was light and crispy.

Seafood Pajeon

My friend chose the third available starter – the Tomatofu, a salad made up of soft tofu, tomatoes and rocket leaves. From the way she cleared her bowl, I’d say she liked it!

Tomatofu

For our main course, we both went with the Traditional bibimbap with beef bulgogi. The healthy outlook of the restaurant meant that it wasn’t topped with a fried egg (boo!) but it was still tasty with their accompanying ‘Kohot’ sauce (like the traditional gochujang based sauce). I liked that other sauces were also available – some were mild and would suit those fearful of heat.

Traditional Bibimbap

Other main courses available in the set menu were the bulgogi, bo-ssam, baby chicken, grilled scallops or the jjigae of the day (that day, it was a pork and kimchi jjigae). I notice online now that it was supposed to include a tea or coffee but we forgot to get ours!

Overall, the food at Bibigo was pretty good – sure it’s not perhaps the most authentic take on Korean food but I don’t then that matters so long as it’s delicious. The lunch set is a great deal with very generous portions and I’d certainly recommend that. The only catch is that you’ve got to sign up for their “VIP club” but this does get you a card that also gives you 20% off their a la carte menu.

Bibigo
58-59 Great Marlborough Street
London W1F 7JY

Bibigo on Urbanspoon

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas! We’re not religious at all but I’ve embraced the whole idea of Christmas and the fact that we get an enforced break from work and well, all of that eating, of course! Our feasting started Christmas Eve with a big Chinese meal for the three of us (Blai joined us this year for his first Christmas in London).

Christmas Eve Dinner

My brother had brought over a roast duck from Four Seasons (our usual duck of choice comes from Gold Mine but they had closed early the day before!) and I added a steamed fish, wontons in chilli oil, kai lan with oyster sauce and mapo tofu (I added some pork to that last recipe).

Mapo Tofu

A couple of the recipes came from Fuchsia Dunlop’s book Every Grain of Rice – and I highly recommend this book! I feel I ought to be cooking more Chinese food and I’ll certainly be using her recipes often.

Afterwards, there were slices of Heston’s Black Forest Buche (bought at Waitrose) for dessert. We’re still eating our way along the length of this excellent chocolatey buche.

Cross Section of the Buche

On Christmas Day, we rose late and started with a breakfast of smoked salmon and crème fraîche on blinis along with scrambled eggs.

Smoked Salmon and Scrambled Eggs

Soon after breakfast, I set out a few bites while the main course was cooking. A bit of cheese, A bit of charcuterie, a bit more salmon. It’s what the Catalans call pica pica, all these little bites.

Untitled

And the main course? Well, we can’t go wrong with another slab of pork belly – it always goes down well in this family. This year, I roasted it with apples and onions and I loved the sweetness and slight tang the apples gave. For a recipe, start with this one and instead of fennel, use a couple of sliced onions and a couple of sliced, peeled green apples and a bit of dried or fresh thyme.

Slow Roast Pork Belly with Apples and Onions

Very buttery mashed potatoes, pigs in blankets, sauteed sprouts, roasted carrots and parsnips and, of course, that pork and there’s my first plate made.

My Plate

And now it’s Boxing Day and that’s all about using up the leftovers… but first, I’d like to hear what you’ve been eating this Christmas! Have you tried new recipes this year or is this a time for sticking to tradition?

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