There’s a curious stretch of Charing Cross Road right by Chinatown – you may know the one I mean. It’s a row of shops filled with kitsch and restaurants serving all manner of Asian foods. At one end is a terrible Korean restaurant and at the other end is a bar. I never really paid much attention to this stretch with the exception of the Malaysian Kopi Tiam and it turns out that I possibly should have!

Take that complex of shops full of kitsch, for example. You may know the one – there are colourful plastic umbrellas and lots of Hello Kitty coin purses. It turns out there’s an Indonesian shop upstairs.

Indonesia Mini Market

And that shop sells ready made meals too with different things available each day. There are a few mismatched oversized tables to sit at and they were almost all full with Indonesian families and students tucking into some good looking dishes. Grab a seat wherever you can and wait for the one server to be free. Be patient!

We put in our order and waited. First to arrive at our table was their mie bakso (£4), a bowl of tender-crunchy beef balls and mung bean noodles in a light but flavourful broth. I believe it’s available every day.

Mie Bakso

Kicking about on one of the tables will probably be a jar of this sambal bakso. The label says Extremely Hot! (in red!) on the side and it certainly is – use with caution! It’s a great accompaniment to the bouncy beef balls.

Sambal Bakso

We also shared a plateful of pempek siomay (£5) (or empek-empek thank you, Ridha, for the identification!), fried fish and tapioca paste fritters – some plain and some first stuffed in tofu. These were quite heavy though tasty under the drizzle of sweet soy (maybe kecap manis?) and a creamy peanut sauce on the side.

Pempek

Help yourself to drinks out of the cooler – we had a can of Coke and a bottle of Mirinda (50p each). There’s an Indonesian bottled tea drink available too.

That day there was also one final dish available – nasi padang with beef rendang. This is a dish of rice served with the rich rendang and other sambals and pickles. It looked great and I hope to try that the next time I drop by. Oh, and of course there are Indonesian (and some Dutch) groceries available to purchase too.

Indonesia Mini Market
57 Charing Cross Road (1st floor)
London  WC2H 0NE

Also part of this complex of shops is a Brazil by Kilo, a Brazilian buffet where you pay for the weight of your food. Judging by the clientele (all Brazilian families), it can’t be too bad. Another one to try.

Also new along this stretch of Charing Cross Road is Roti King in a funny spot called Asian Twist Delicious. These are the guys who ran the Roti Stall at Oriental City and we came here for our first lunch that day (Indonesian Mini Market was our second lunch). Their roti canai is exactly as I remember it and we had it with a dal curry and we also split a delicious roti sardin (spiced mashed sardines wrapped in the thin bread). Excellent.

A few days after our wedding, I met my good friend Sarah from Vancouver and her husband Kevin for tea. I was told to pick the location and as it usually does, I was all nerves as I wanted to get this choice right! I opted to meet them at Piccadilly Circus with a few ideas on my mind. After learning that Kevin was a bit of a chocoholic, I knew where we’d go – La Maison du Chocolat.

My treats from this most Parisian of chocolate shops have always been takeaway – chocolates, cakes, even their divine hot chocolate. However, I noticed that they’d put in a little cafe corner in the shop a while ago but I’d not had a chance to try it out. All the tables were full when we arrived at a little past 3pm on a Sunday but a couple had just finished and we got a table after a little wait. Throughout our time there though, many other tables freed up and then stayed empty…shame as the little place is great! After choosing from the menu, the waitress came back with three glasses of tap water for us – a nice touch and quite forward looking as we really did need this to wash down all that chocolatey goodness.

It was a hot day and I wanted some ice cream. La Maison has ice creams and sorbets in little tubs but I had my eye on their verrines – layered ice cream desserts in a glass. Of those available, I chose la Verrine Pistache Framboise Chocolat – a layered dessert with a fresh raspberry sorbet, a rich and sticky chocolate ganache, creamy pistachio ice cream and topped with a candied pistachio “gravel”. With a long teaspoon, I was able to dig through all the layers and then … swoon as the combination hit my tongue. (I hope I find some time to go back again this summer while the ice creams are still available.)

Verrine Pistache Framboise Chocolat

I can’t remember what the name of this pastry was (Sarah and Kevin split this) but there was chocolate, passion fruit, banana and coconut all combined inside. We noted that the orange square on top looked disturbingly like a Kraft single – not to worry: it was coloured white chocolate. Actually, a Flickr search brings up a possibility of a name – Ile de Maracuja. It went down very well with the two of them.

Ile de Maracuja

Kevin went all out and had one of their fantastic hot chocolates (made with a fabulously ludicrous chocolate to milk ratio – it’s almost like drinking pure melted chocolate) to drink while we girls stuck with tea. These were not the cheapest teas by any means (I see from my photo that it’s a Dammann Frères tea) but the blow was lessened when each drink (only the teas and coffees) came with one of their lovely chocolates (we had raspberry).

Earl Grey Tea

The total came to £20 for the three of us (I think most of that was my verrine!). Sure it’s not a budget cafe but the pastries here are far better than your average tea shop and I’m happy to splash out a bit for a treat once in a while and especially if you’ve got friends visiting! Thank you for tea that day, Sarah and Kevin, and it was so nice to see you guys again! I miss you both!

La Maison du Chocolat
45-46 Piccadilly
London W1J 0DS

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