London


We were wandering around Covent Garden when I recalled a restaurant that a friend had recommended to me – On the Bab. We trotted over there for a light dinner early that evening and found it absolutely rammed with Korean and Chinese students. They sure can sniff out a good place for a meal!

And good it was, selling the kind of Korean food that’s a little bit junky, a little bit trendy, and a whole lot of popular. Korean fried chicken has to be on that list of course. This was their Yangyum chicken – sweet spicy (small – £5.5). Larger orders on other tables seemed to include extra salads. The chicken was good though a little swamped by the sauce. I enjoyed it though.

Yangyum Chicken - Sweet Chilli

Bab Twigim – Korean style kimchi and cheese arancini (£3.8) were very moreish and contained that very trendy combination of kimchi and mild melty cheese. Cheese (this mild stuff at least) does seem quite popular in Korea, showing up on all manner of spicy dishes.

Kimchi Arancini

Kimchi and cheese egg muffin (£3.5) came highly recommended from my friend and whatever I was expecting, it sure wasn’t this! This had been made in some mould with the kimchi and again that mild melting cheese (similar to an American mozzarella) had been cooked within a soft pancake-like batter. Excellent.

Kimchi and Cheese Egg Muffin

On the Bibimbab (£7.5) didn’t come in a stone bowl but was still very tasty with its multitude of ingredients. Of course, a hot stone bowl would have made it all better…

On the Bibimbab

In all, a solid place for a Korean meal in an unlikely location – Covent Garden. The only downside is how cramped the restaurant is, with neighbouring tables really pushed up against each other. But still, I’d like to try more from the menu! There are two other branches in addition to the Covent Garden one.

On the Bab
36 Wellington Street
Covent Garden
London WC2E 7BD

I’ve been procrastinating writing up my lunch at Hoppers because…well, it was a very meh meal. I’ve been looking for an occasion to go as I knew we’d need to queue for a table but I was really looking forward to our Sri Lankan/South Indian meal once a date was set. We waited for ages on a Saturday lunchtime for a table as we were four people – things moved quicker if you’re just two. When we finally sat down, it was at one of the tiny tables at the back and I hope they’ve been improved since our visit in late January. Drinks came quickly though watch out as the juices really are minuscule.

Drinks

Our starters were a mixed bag. The Bonemarrow Varuval, Roti (£5.5) looked brilliant and while the curried bone marrow was indeed amazing, the accompanying roti was somewhat hard and chewy. Well, that didn’t stop me spooning the marrow directly into my mouth.

Bonemarrow Varuval, Roti

Mutton Rolls (£4.5) were excellent and served with a spiced ketchup-like sauce.

Mutton Rolls

Lamb Kothu Roti (£8.5) was fine – quite a nice kothu roti though this could have done with a bit more of the roti!

Lamb Kothu Roti

String Hoppers, Kiri Hodi, Pol Sambol (£4) were generally very good. The kiri hodi, a coconut milk gravy, was lovely but the pol sambol, a fresh coconut sambol, didn’t have the freshness and flavour I expected.

String Hoppers, Kiri Hodi, Pol Sambol

Chicken Heart Chukka (£4.5) was amazing – this spicy stir fry of chicken hearts, chicken bites, tomatoes and beans hit the spot.

Chicken Heart Chukka

Our plates were cleared and trays then arrived with our main dishes – the hoppers and dosas and the curries too. Hoppers! Here’s a Hopper (£3) with a Black Pork Kari (£5.5). The pork curry was excellent and had us (ok, me) scraping the bowl clean.

Hopper

Here’s an Egg Hopper (£3.5) with the chutney set – Pol Sambol, Seeni Sambol, Coriander Chutney (£1.25).

Egg Hopper

And here’s a Dosa (£3) with its chutney set – Coriander Chutney, Tomato Chutney, Coconut Chutney (£1.25).

Dosa

And here’s a Podi Dosa (£3.5) – it’s a dosa but with podi on its inside surface. Podi is a spicy powdered mixture of chili powder and lentils that is lovely and here it was fiery hot. Fish Kari (£6) was good but not as good as the pork curry.

Podi Dosa

Unfortunately, it was the curries that were the stars rather than the hoppers, dosas or chutneys. Their namesake hoppers were tough rather than crisp at the edges. Likewise, the dosas were hard and chewy. The chutneys were generally ok but weren’t as flavourful as the sambols I’ve had from other Sri Lankan restaurants and takeaways.

Now this is the part of the post that is like the nostalgia bit…for desserts are no longer available at Hoppers. We were told that the kitchen is very small and desserts were going to be removed from the menu for them to concentrate on the savouries. Well, we took that opportunity to share a roasted rice kulfi

Roasted Rice Kulfi

… and a Sri Lankan classic, wattalapam. Both were excellent! The wattalapam was smooth and sweet while all the bits and pieces and jellies and fruit and rose flavouring with the kulfi made it a fun eat.

Wattalapam

Overall, it was a mixed bag which is such a shame. Well, on second thought, it’s saved me from queuing again for yet another trendy restaurant in central London!

Hoppers
49 Frith Street
London W1D 4SG

I’m not doing a very good job of writing up everywhere I’ve eaten recently; there’s just not enough time in the day and I’ve had to prioritise my writing a little. Was the restaurant meh? – well, that one can wait. One place though that did make a bit of an impact was Warung Padang London, which I visited a couple weeks ago. Now, you may remember my writing up an Indonesian stall in Chinatown a few years ago. That place is currently under refurbishment (or is it being destroyed? I have no idea) and it and the Malaysian cafe that was also housed in the centre have had to relocate. I found the Malaysian place recently serving street food lunches in Spitalfields. And now I’ve found the Indonesian place too – in a proper bricks and mortar building in Bermondsey.

At the corner of Scott Lidgett Crescent is the very unassuming joint that is Warung Padang London – and it’s not just a cafe/restaurant but it’s also a bit of a hostel at the back. It’s a casual restaurant that also offers takeaway and a (very) few Indonesian groceries. It was freezing that afternoon and we headed for the large shared table at the back of the restaurant, away from the door.

For our lunch, we first shared a vegetable rissole, which was a smashed croquette (I think the smashing wasn’t deliberate) which must have been introduced during the Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia. This was tasty with a flavour I cannot put my finger on…. but it was clear this wasn’t a Dutch kroket.

Vegetable Rissole

My ayam penyet was a smashed (deliberately) and fried spiced chicken leg smeared with a very hot sambal made with plenty of belacan, that wonderfully fragrant and pungent fermented shrimp paste. This was excellent! And you can’t tell from the photo but it was huge!

Ayam Penyet

My friend had her eye on a vegetarian rice meal but they’d run out of tempe and were expecting some more to be shipped in. She had to change her order to a soto ayam but she was very pleased with this replacement. The thin spiced broth was chock full of lontong (pressed rice cakes), chicken and vermicelli. The condiments also presented to her allowed her to customise it to her liking – it all went in!

Soto Ayam

Soto Ayam Fixings

We were stuffed but my friend was pushing for a little dessert, which was how we ended up sharing a steamed banana cake. This turned out to be banana in sticky rice, all wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. And it was served hot with a scoop of ice cream and some palm sugar.

Steamed Banana Cake

Service is a little slow (perhaps one could call it ‘relaxed’) but friendly. And, of course, I cannot vouch for the hostel in the back! But I know I’ll return to try the rest of their menu – I have my eye on their nasi Padang (rice with dishes), nasi goreng (fried rice), and pisang goreng (fried banana)!

Warung Padang London
Prince of Wales P H
Scott Lidgett Crescent
London SE16 4XF

I pass through the Victoria area most days on my way into work. When I heard that a pop up restaurant (Laos Café) serving Laotian food was in the area, well, my ears definitely perked up. With one dinner home alone late last month, I popped in for some takeaway. The cafe itself (run by Rosa’s Thai Cafe) was small and absolutely rammed and I’m glad I got some takeaway as I hadn’t booked beforehand. It wasn’t long before I was clutching my bag quite excitedly on my train home.

Laos Cafe

Back home, I opened my packages with glee. There were Isaan sausages (£5), …

Isaan Sausages (Saigrok Isaan)

… papaya salad (£8), …

Papaya Salad (Som Tum)

… and beautifully fragrant sticky rice (£3). A very decent dinner for one.

Sticky Rice

Everyone was excellent. I didn’t ask for any specific heat level but the papaya salad (som tum) had a good burn to it and was one of the better ones I’ve had in London. The sausages were very moreish, with a slight fermented tang, and were served with the traditional peanuts and sliced ginger – oh, and chilies too! I’d like to go back to try their laabs and grilled sea bass but I’m going to have to hurry. The pop up cafe is open until the end of February, after which time it will revert to another branch of Rosa’s Thai Cafe.

Laos Café
25 Gillingham Street
London SW1V 1HN

About a week ago, I made my way across the city to Old Street – to Tramontina Brindisa – to feast (invited) at their first calçotada of the year. If you’re not familiar with this term, it’s a Catalan celebration of the calçot, a long onion shoot that’s served grilled with a sauce made with peppers and nuts. Apparently it’s only in the last decade that the calçotada has become a big deal, even in Catalunya. The city of Valls is particularly known for their calçots and their calçotades (as well as their castells).

I’d never been to this particular Brindisa but I liked the slightly industrial style space – to my surprise though, I was shown through to the glowing red covered terrace out back. The red glow was due to a copious number of outdoor heaters turning a frigid January in London into a much warmer January in Barcelona!

There’s enough seating for at least 30, I reckon, and those heaters really did make things cosy.

Untitled

Now, in case you’d forgotten what the event was, the space was full of calçots and other Catalan vegetables not typically found in this city. Those dried chillies are nyoras, used to make the romesco sauce for the calçots. Do you recognise the tomatoes?

Catalan Vegetables

While everyone mingled and sipped on cava, we watched as head chef Leo Rivera started grilling the long onions over a portable gas stove – very handy! It does seem more convenient to bring out the portable butane rather than go to the trouble of charcoal whilst it’s cold and windy.

Grilling Calçots

We were then invited to find our seats (what beautiful table dressing!) and the calçotada started in earnest.

Untitled

Well, almost in earnest! First were a couple of less traditional calçot preparations that are currently featured on their a la carte menu. Fat orange stuffed olives were a nice tangy foil to rich tempura calçots, served with romesco.

Olives with Orange

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My preference was for the calçot croquetes, only because I really cannot turn down a croqueta. These large marble sized nuggets were perfectly creamy and oniony.

Calçot Croquetes

Before we got much further, Leo gave a demonstration on how to drink from a porró – a Catalan device for pouring a thin stream of wine directly into your mouth. Soon there was plenty of red wine splashing down everyone’s chests!

How to Drink from a Porró

Bundles of grilled calçots wrapped in paper were handed to us along with dishes of romesco sauce (or technically salvitxada, a thicker romesco sauce specifically for eating with calçots). After grilling, the calçots were wrapped in newspaper, allowing them to keep warm and steam a little, separating its layers.

Grilled Calçots

Romesco

Another demonstration! How to eat a calçot: Peel the charred layers of calçot skin off to reveal the tender, translucent slips of grilled calçot. Dip this into sauce and drop its length into your mouth from above. Oh, and ensure that your bib is on. I went through my pile in minutes.

How to Eat a Calçot

A massive platter of meat (to be shared between two) was then set in front of us. Grilled meats are the traditional second course after calçots; it seems natural to make use of the grill since you’ve got it fired up! Grilled botifarra (a Catalan sausage), presa iberica, lamb chops, and chorizo were accompanied by a grilled artichoke, roasted red peppers, a baked potato, plenty of toasted bread and aioli.

The Grilled Meats

Everything was of the quality we’ve all come to expect from Brindisa. Extra artichokes were brought out for us as well and I’m not ashamed to say that I managed to have an extra artichoke and an extra botifarra as well! (Botifarra are rare in London as the shops don’t tend to stock them as they perish quickly.)

For dessert, it had to be crema catalana! We were shown how a hot iron is used to burn the tops of the creams and then we stuck in. Brilliant – these were creamy and not too sweet, the sweetness provided by the crunchy caramelised tops.

Crema Catalana

It’s not too late to book a seat at one of Brindisa’s calçotadas – they take place on Saturdays and Sundays in February and March only at lunchtimes and at both Tramontina Brindisa and Morada. All the food plus a glass of cava is £35 per person. I can definitely recommend it; it’s a comfortable space and a calçotada is great fun. Book your calçotada here!

Thank you very much to Brindisa for the invitation!

Tramontana Brindisa
152 Curtain Road
London EC2A 3AT

I’m starting to like the format of these short little posts that allow me to quickly expand on my thoughts of a place or a dish I’ve had recently. I like the instant publication of Instagram but something about it doesn’t allow me to wax on as I do here. One recent meal whose photo I posted was my lunch from Mother Clucker, who I encountered in the monthly KERB street food market in Sheldon Square, Paddington.

My £10 was exchanged for their lunch deal of 3 chicken strips, Cajun fries, and a can of soft drink.

Chicken strips and Cajun fries from Mother Clucker. They are freaking excellent.

Those chicken strips were huge! These tea-brined, buttermilk soaked and twice battered (that’s what their website says) chicken strips were utterly fantastic, very moist and tender and with a great crust. You know I love me some fried chicken and these were hands-down the best Southern-style strips I’ve had in a long time. As you can see, I also put good use to the proffered squeeze bottles of homemade lime mayonnaise and hot pepper sauce. Two thumbs up.

These guys are definitely worth seeking out.

Mother Clucker
All over London – check out their website for details.

I like fried chicken. No, I love fried chicken. And I’d been meaning to try Ma’Plucker after passing it one evening on Beak Street (ha!) and stopping in for just desserts – I knew I’d be back for their main menu and we got that chance one evening in late December. One or two of the tables were occupied that evening – perhaps its the bench seating in the front that encourages people not to linger too much after their meal. We grabbed a relatively quiet table in the back and contemplated their quirky menu. There’s a formula for their chicken meals: choose your chicken style, your carbohydrate or salad, and your sauce. There are other set chicken dishes available and sides too.

They had two or three flavoured iced teas available that evening and both those we tried (lemon and cranberry) were refreshing and tasted very natural. Thumbs up from us!

Iced Teas

We had to have some fried chicken of course and it was to be in the form of Crispy Coated Buttermilk Dipped Wings and a Waffle (£6). MP chicken skin gravy for this one. The fried chicken wasn’t exactly the buttermilk friedness that I was expecting (the coating bit threw me a bit) but y’know, it was pretty good fried chicken. Fried chicken. Yeah. The waffle already had some maple syrup embedded in it and with the savoury gravy, well, that went down a treat.

Crispy Coated Buttermilk Dipped Wings and Waffle

We also tried their Hickory Smoked Pulled Chicken in a House Bun (£7.50 for 250g pulled chicken) with Kansas BBQ sauce. Surprisingly, this may have been the winner that evening. 250g of pulled chicken turned out to be quite a bit (a 150g portion is also available for the less greedy) but it was tender and delicious and the barbecue sauce included was very good.

Hickory Smoked Pulled Chicken

We had Seasonal Greens and Fries (£4 and £3.50, respectively) on the side. Both were fine – the seasonal greens were lovely tossed in a slightly spicy butter but I wish they had been a more generous with the portion size.

Seasonal Greens and Fries

No desserts that evening but their cherry pie was lovely the first time we tried it while their apples and dumplings were alright in the past. It’s a good spot to pop into in the area, well, if you’re craving chicken of course!

Ma’Plucker
75 Beak Street
London W1F 9SS

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