Last Wednesday, Blai and I met in the evening after work under a tree in Ham Yard, the rather swish Soho courtyard that’s home to a few new shops, the Ham Yard Hotel, and Engawa, a Japanese restaurant specialising in Kobe beef (that’s Ham Yard below but it’s a photo taken about a month ago). We were, of course, visiting this last and we were there to sample (at their invitation) their 8 course tasting menu which costs a not insubstantial £100. There are £60 and £80 menus for fewer courses.

Ham Yard

The restaurant, it turns out, is part of the Japanese Salt Group, which owns a number of high end restaurants in Japan. This, I believe, is their first venture into London; well, we’d get to see how the food translates over here! It’s only since last year anyway that Europe was allowed to import real Kobe beef from Japan again.

We sat by the counter and had a great view of everything being made in front of us by a number of white jacketed chefs. However, what I didn’t expect was how tiny the entire restaurant was. Apart from the counter seating, there were a few normal tables and then by the window, more counter seating. And things were tight – with the tables full and the counters full too, it was a struggle for the waiters to get through. It’s a shame the place isn’t bigger.

Anyway, we ordered our teas to drink and made our selections from the menu (on the 8 course menu, there are three courses for which you have to choose). Apart from the choices listed on the menu (for certain courses), we were also presented with this box of a couple cuts of beef and were asked to choose for our main course.

Kobe Beef

After getting our drinks (green tea for me and iced tea for Blai), we watched as two small glass bowls were filled with various bits of beef and dressings before being set into a large block of ice. It then occurred to us that perhaps those were for us! And they were!

This was the first course and the first with a choice (we, of course, shared between us). A Kobe beef yukhoe was a Japanese-style Korean beef tartare – raw Kobe beef had been chopped and served with a bit of jellied stock and a bit of slimy (but in a good way) grated Japanese mountain yam.

Kobe beef yukhoe

The Kobe beef with ponzu sauce was cold cooked slices of Kobe beef with a bit of ponzu jelly on top. These cold dishes were a nice way to get our appetites going.

Kobe beef with ponzu sauce

Choices again for the second course; it was eggs all around this time. A Dashimaki with Kobe beef soup was a beautiful egg roll sitting in a pool of Kobe beef dashi stock and topped with a bit of shaved truffle and a thin slice of kumquat.

Dashimaki with Kobe beef soup

Chawan-mushi with Kobe beef soup was steamed egg custard made with that same Kobe beef dashi stock and again topped with a bit of shaved truffle. Silky.

Chawan-mushi with Kobe beef soup

The next course was a fried one, with it changing each day. That day we got a prawn and asparagus Kakiage, a crisp ball of the ingredients bound together with a bit of batter. Lovely but I could have eaten two!

Shrimp and Asparagus Kakiage

Sashimi next. We were both presented with these beautiful compartmentalised boxes, with each compartment containing another beautiful little porcelain dish. Oh yeah, and the sashimi in those. There was a wide range of fishes represented: tuna, salmon, sea bass, red snapper, scallops, squid, salmon roe, sea urchin. It was beautiful to behold and beautiful to eat. Everything was extremely fresh.


And then again some choice between a few cooked dishes involving Kobe beef. Kobe beef daikon was supremely melting slow-cooked beef and daikon cooked in Kobe beef dashi stock.

Kobe beef daikon

Kobe beef sukiyaki was a different cut of beef cooked with onions and the sweet soy broth so characteristic of sukiyaki. While both these dishes were excellent, I just have no idea how the dish would compare with the same cuts but from…y’know…a cow that hasn’t had as good a life. Would the slow cooking tenderise everything?

Kobe beef sukiyaki

Choice again! These were the cuts of Kobe beef available for the Kobe beef main dish that had been presented to us at the beginning of the meal. Two are available each day and they change often as they get sent the whole animal and have to break it down themselves. That day’s choice was rump or top round and we got both. The steaks were grilled to their recommendation (medium and medium rare, if I recall correctly), sliced, and served with lemon, salt, wasabi and ponzu (with a chunk of pink Himalayan salt for…saltiness) on the side.

Grilled Kobe beef

Salt, Wasabi and Ponzu

Now this was a great way to appreciate Kobe beef and its tenderness and succulence. This was what I had been expecting! Now, strangely, the one takeaway message I got from this course was that wasabi is excellent with steak (which you would have thought I’d have figured out already what with the amount of Kodoku no Gurume I watch).

Kobe beef

Kobe beef

Each steak was served on a beautiful kidney-shaped ceramic place that turned out to the be cover of a box and within the box was grilled vegetables: okra, asparagus and green tomato. It was my first time having a grilled green tomato – I liked it!

Grilled Vegetables

Sushi was the final savoury course. There was some nigiri (tuna and salmon), a couple of sushi “balls” (scallop and eel) and a vegetable maki roll topped with Kobe beef. Apart from the previous course, this was my second favourite course. The sushi was overall quite excellent; it was some of the best stuff I’ve had in a while.


And we made to course number eight: a Deluxe Engawa fondue. We received a box of fresh fruits, tofu cheesecake filled with sweet red beans, and a small wedge of dorayaki. And the best part was the matcha white chocolate dipping sauce on the side.

Fruits and Tofu Cheesecake

Matcha white chocolate sauce

In order to get every last bit of that sauce, Blai smashed up the last couple of bites of cheesecake into the green goop; and I followed suit! Genius!

It’s expensive, I grant you. While the food was lovely, I’m not sure I can see myself splurging on the £100 menu… perhaps the £60 or £80 menu is more like it for me. I suppose most of the cost is down to the import of the Kobe beef; gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to try Kobe beef in Kobe though? But still, it was a fun evening.

Thank you to Engawa for the invitation!

2 Ham Yard
London W1D 7LT

Engawa on Urbanspoon

Do we need another review of BAO? Probably not but here’s mine anyway! Last week we tried our luck in the queue at 7pm and 90 minutes later, the three of us (me, Vivian, Felicia) finally got in. There’s always a queue here; be prepared for it or be prepared to find another place to leave. Every time we thought we’d vacate the queue, we’d move forward one spot and then we’d wait again. There are only 30 seats inside.


Anyway, 90 minutes later, we were finally in (while in the queue, I did feel quite sorry for the couple seated right by the window as everyone was ogling their food). Anyway, we’d already made our selections on the order form in the queue so we handed that over and waited impatiently.

With three of us, we were able to sample almost the entire menu. Sides and small eats (xiaochi) arrived first. Turnip Tops, Salted Egg (£2.5) turned out to be raw turnip greens in a spicy black vinegar dressing with, yes, grated salted egg on top.

Turnip Tops, Salted Egg

Sweet Potato Chips, Plum Pickle Ketchup (£3) were beautifully fried and perfectly crisp. The frying in this restaurant was top-notch.

Sweet Potato Chips, Plum Pickle Ketchup

Eryngi Mushroom, Century Egg (£4) – I loved this dish. The mushrooms had been thickly sliced and grilled and topped with a couple of slices of the black jelly that is century egg.

Eryngi Mushroom, Century Egg

Pig Blood Cake (£3.5) was a slice of something like black pudding topped with an egg yolk. This was fantastic – all earthy darkness brightened by the sun. Sorry, that probably sounds ridiculous but it really was very very good.

Pig Blood Cake

Taiwanese Fried Chicken, Hot Sauce (£5) was. just. fantastic. Ah, I’ve never met a fried chicken I didn’t like but this really is near the top of my list.

Taiwanese Fried Chicken, Hot Sauce

Now, I adore aubergine but the Aubergine, Wonton Crisp (£3.5) didn’t exactly light up my life. While I enjoyed the silky vegetable on top of the deep fried wonton skins, perhaps it was overshadowed by that fried chicken that arrived at the same time.

Aubergine, Wonton Crisp and  Taiwanese Fried Chicken, Hot Sauce

Aged Beef Rump Cap, Aged White Soy Sauce (£6) is probably one of their more famous small eats and for good reason. This was some seriously good beef – very tender and flavourful. I’m not entirely certain what white soy sauce is but whatever sauce there was was delicious.

Aged Beef Rump Cap, Aged White Soy Sauce

Trotter Nuggets (£4) were melting little morsels that reminded me very much of David Chang’s pig’s head torchon…only this was made up of the other end of the animal. That green sauce on the side packed a surprising heat!

Trotter Nuggets

Guinea Fowl Chi Shiang Rice (£5.25) was one of my favourites that night. This bowl of rice was topped with lots of lovely things and an egg too. We were told to mix it all up together before tucking in and little bits of fried shallots and pickles peaked through the mixture. Fabulous.

Guinea Fowl Chi Shiang Rice

Of course, we had some of their baos too. Their Daikon Bao (£3.5) was rather inspired. Inside the soft pillowy steamed bun was stuffed a deep fried patty formed of grated daikon. And there’s a thin slice of daikon on top of that to remind you of what’s inside.

Daikon Bao

A Classic Bao (£3.75) was fine with lots of pork in there and peanuts on top too.

Classic Bao

Lamb Shoulder Bao (£5) was braised lamb covered in more of that green sauce.

Lamb Shoulder Bao

Confit Pork Bao (£4.50) – well, at this point, I wasn’t entirely sure what differentiated the confit pork from the regular pork as the mound of fried shallots somewhat overwhelmed it all….and I normally really like fried shallots.

Confit Pork Bao

And for dessert, I was by myself with my Fried Horlicks Ice Cream Bao (£4). The ice cream was brilliant – I do like me some Horlicks – and the pairing with fried bread was fantastic. I would have liked a little less bread but I was pretty full by that point and perhaps this was my stomach crying out for help.

Fried Horlicks Ice Cream Bao

Overall, I preferred the sides and small eats to the main baos; of all the baos we had, my favourite was the daikon one. Perhaps next time I’ll try their fried chicken bao (I can’t see how I’d ever dislike that). I’ve heard the queue is much shorter earlier in the week; I’ll try anything to shorten the length of time I’m queuing!

53 Lexington Street
London W1F 9AS

Bao on Urbanspoon

It may or may not be known (ha! Probably the latter) that I’m not a fan of the ramen at Bone Daddies. I find it’s just packed too full of stuff to enjoy – it’s a bit over the top. When I first heard about Shackfuyu, I assumed it was another ramen joint and ignored it but soon reports started coming in about the dishes served there and I realised it was more like an izakaya but with intriguing fusion style foods.

We thought of popping in one evening but found the place absolutely packed. Back up plan: return for lunch on Easter Sunday, when it’s possible to drop in at some of the hippest and most popular restaurants (provided they’re open on the day) without a reservation. And sure enough, Shackfuyu was half empty. Perfect, we’d get our opportunity to try it!

We both loved the short and sweet menu and chose a few things across it. The yellowtail sashimi tostada – avocado shiso (£2.50 each) was a great two-bite starter with lovely shock to the tongue of the hot crisp tortilla and the cold avocado and fish.

Yellowtail sashimi tostada - avocado shiso

Blai’s favourite was probably the mackerel – nanban style (escabeche) (£7.80). Here the fish fillets had been battered and deep fried before being drained and marinated in a vinegary mixture with shredded vegetables. Fantastic.

Mackerel – nanban style (escabeche)

The fried potatoes – japanese curry sauce (£4.30) were excellent. The potato cubes had been fried with a perfect crispy shell that remained crispy in the sauce.

Fried potatoes – japanese curry sauce

The aubergine – 4 miso – bubu arare (£5.80) were silky smooth and smeared in a delicious miso paste and topped with nori and little crispy rice balls (the bubu arare).

Aubergine – 4 miso – bubu arare

To meet our carb needs, we also shared a hot stone rice – goma tare – chilli – beef (£7.80). As expected, it was like a bibimbap with a raw egg and corn and mushrooms. It was all mixed up for us to ensure we didn’t burn ourselves and then we helped ourselves to the rice with its crispy toasted edges.

Hot stone rice – goma tare – chilli – beef

What everyone says about their kinako french toast with matcha soft serve ice cream (£6) is true. It’s just dreamy with its crispy crust and custardy centre and that matcha! soft! serve! and we’re still thinking about it.

Kinako french toast – soft serve ice cream

Just go and eat that french toast. Go. Go. Go. But if you can’t go, you can get a matcha soft serve for takeaway for £3.50 (I know I will). And hurry, as Shackfuyu is just a pop-up that’ll be around for just a year or so.

Bone Daddies Shackfuyu
14a Old Compton Street
London W1D 4TJ

Shackfuyu on Urbanspoon

In France, the first of April is also full of pranks in France. The tradition is poisson d’avril (April fish) – children try to stick paper fishes onto their friends’ backs and when it’s discovered, one shouts “Poisson d’avril!”. Simple but effective. On the day at Brasserie Zédel, they went all out for the event, with paper fish to stick on someone’s back at each place, fortune telling fish, and beautiful dark chocolate fish to take home. I was there on invitation – Blai and I actually find ourselves there quite regularly. It almost always has space for a walk-in for two and is priced very well for a centrally-located brasserie…and, of course, we like the food! But this…this was different. It was a one-off for a particularly French way of celebrating April Fools.

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

And I couldn’t help but giggle at the poor victims of the prank that night, many of whom were the waitstaff!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

Then we watched as every fortune telling fish curled up in our palms…. that’s the usual thing right? That we’re all “passionate” people?!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

For my meal, I started with Steak Tartare. It was excellent despite it being not much of a looker – all the seasonings had been mixed in with the meat already.

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

I felt an implicit pressure to have fish somewhere in my meal (actually the pressure was all self-inflicted) and chose the Daurade aux Aubergines et Sauce Verte – sea bream. The aubergines under the fish were fantastic!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

Brasserie Zédel’s menu changes ever so slightly through the seasons and it’s most apparent in their dessert menu. I chose one dessert that I certainly hadn’t seen on the menu before: Soufflé Glacé au Café, Crème Anglaise. The thin custard was poured directly into the heart of the cold coffee mousse. I loved that the combination wasn’t too sweet overall and was a fine ending to the meal, no extra coffee required!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

And here’s that dark chocolate fish, made in house by their chocolatier, that was presented to each of us at the end of our meal. I’ve been nibbling on it every day since and it’s ridiculously good.

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

Thank you very much to Hattie and Natalie and Brasserie Zédel for the invitation – it was a fun night! I’ve now signed up to the restaurant’s newsletter to get head’s up for their other French celebrations (I hear they do a great Bastille Day).

Brasserie Zédel
20 Sherwood Street
London W1F 7ED

We have Korean food on the brain and especially the Korean food in New Malden. I’m keen for us to try all the restaurants in the area but for our last two visits, we’ve stuck with one about which we’ve heard good things – Yami, located on the high street.

We first visited for lunch one Sunday and I was surprised to discover that their lunch menu was available all through the week. There’s no barbecue meats on it but there’s a very good range of dishes. We selected a few and to my delight, three banchan were brought to our table; there was kimchi, spicy pickled cucumber and stewed potatoes. It’s nice to get these traditional Korean little dishes; I take an immediate dislike to restaurants charging for a small dish of kimchi!


A plate of Korean sweet and spicy fried chicken were little nuggets of fried goodness.

Korean Sweet and Spicy Fried Chicken

The seafood pajeon was excellent – not at all greasy like many pancakes I’ve come across.

Seafood Pajeon

Finally, we also split a proper stone bowl bibimbap, which came with a side of some kind of fermented bean soup. Lots of vegetables, a bit of marinated beef and a raw egg – good stuff!

Bibimbap and Soup


The grand total for all of this (excluding service) was £15 – yes, only £5 each dish! But unfortunately, that was late last year and now the prices have gone up a little. And it’s still a bargain at only £5.90 each dish at lunchtime. Prices are a pound or two more at dinner time.

We knew we’d return but it was only earlier this month that we got around to it. This time, we were there for dinner and in particular for Korean barbecue. And again, banchan! The kimchi remained but we also got some soy marinated eggs and a salad with a sweet mayo dressing.


Our first round of barbecue was unmarinated sliced ox tongue. Alongside, we ordered a basket of lettuce and there were slices of raw garlic, green chili, and bean paste too. Oh, and possibly my favourite surprisingly simple dip for the slightly chewy unmarinated thinly sliced tongue – sesame oil and salt.

Ox Tongue and Lettuce

Grilled Ox Tongue

We knew we’d need some rice with our meal and with Blai also wanting japchae, the Korean glass noodle stirfry, we were thrilled to be able to order both together at once! Japchae and rice – and I think it’s cheaper ordering them together than separately too.

Japchae and Rice

At this point, our waitress came along, scraped clean our grill and heated it again. Our marinated beef – galbi – came in a massive and intimidating Swiss roll. Not to worry: a waiter came along and proceeded to unroll the meat directly onto the grill, cutting it into bite sized pieces with scissors as he went along.

A Roll of Marinated Beef

Grilled Marinated Beef

That beef was fabulous and we were in raptures about it. Incredibly tender and flavoursome, I know we’ll be ordering it again next time! Our dinner total came to £30 for the two of us (bargain!) and we were absolutely stuffed. Keep in mind that if you do opt for barbecue you do need to have at least two orders of meat. Not a problem for us!

69 High St
New Malden KT3 4BT

Yami on Urbanspoon

There’s a bus that takes us directly from Croydon all the way to Elephant and Castle – it’s a ridiculously scenic route as the route rolls up and down a number of hills. This route has also introduced me to a number of neighbourhoods and, of course, new restaurants in those hoods. One that caught my eye on Walworth Road in between Camberwell and Elephant and Castle was the slightly absurdly named CheeMc. It turns out that Chi-Mc is the Korean compound word for Korean fried chicken and beer, an extremely popular combination there and in China, thanks to the export of Korean pop dramas. Well, that then explained their logo – a drunk looking cartoon chicken and a stein of frothing beer.

The restaurant is relatively new, opening late last year, and googling for any information brings you to forums in Korean. It sounds like Korean students love the place and there wasn’t anything for me to do but visit for a meal. I arranged to meet my friend at CheeMc one weeknight. I’m not sure what I expected but the restaurant was sparsely decorated, with a kitchen in the back and a glass case full of soju and beer in the front. Their menu is full of Korean dishes in addition to all that fried chicken.

The fried chicken list had prices for half or whole chickens and also a deal for two halves with different flavours. We went for this last half and half deal and after a recommendation from the waitress (and also her telling us what flavours weren’t available) we went with sweet chilli and sweet garlic.

Expect a bit of a wait as that chicken is fried fresh when you order it. What came out first was a sizzling hotplate topped with the fried chicken and lashings of a sweet garlic paste. And I really mean lashings. The half chicken had been cut into manageable sized pieces and fried with a batter. It was a bit different to the batterless kind I tried at Bonchon in Boston but still was welcome.

Half a Sweet Garlic Fried Chicken

Most tables were ordering the sweet chilli fried chicken. These were those glossy coated pieces, all sweet and spicy.

Half a Sweet Chilli Fried Chicken

Of the two, we preferred the garlic chicken (despite it causing poor Blai to suffer at night – garlic was seeping out of my pores!). The garlic was strongly flavoured and a bit sweet as well and went very well with the savoury chicken. The chilli chicken was a bit too sweet for our tastes but we saw later on that night a slight variant of this flavour that would solve that problem. This was a platter of the sweet chilli chicken covered in a pile of fresh spring onion slivers.

In addition to our fried chicken feast, we split a kimchi jjigae with rice. This was the usual bubbling stone bowl of red broth with sliced pork and kimchi. What wasn’t usual was the default level of heat in the broth – spicy!

Kimchi Jjigae

Overall, yeah, it’s worth a trip if you’re in the area. Between the two of us, the food and a takeaway box for the leftovers (they charged 50p for that) totaled £30.

310 Walworth Road
London SE17 2NA

Cheemc on Urbanspoon

I’ve been walking by the Lanzhou Noodle Bar (on Cranbourn Street, just around the corner from the entrance to Leicester Square station) without ever paying it much attention. In the window are steam trays filled with the kind of buffet Chinese food that you expect an unsuspecting tourist to order, thinking that this is what real Chinese food is like in London’s Chinatown. Well, who’s the noob now?! It turns out that behind that false front is noodle heaven. (With thanks to Lizzie as I read about the place on her blog first – and yet still couldn’t find it, sigh)

They’ve got an a la carte menu filled with various dishes – I turned immediately to the noodle chart where there’s a choice of either handpulled noodles (la mian – famous in the city of Lanzhou) or hand cut noodles (dao xiao mian), either in a soup or stir-fried. Various meaty additions are available.

On my visit there, I was placed on some strange bar-like seating which I had to share with two guys trying to keep their elbows to themselves. I ordered some tea and a bowl of hot and sour sliced beef handpulled noodle soup and waited while noodles were pulled and thumped behind me. My tea came in a styrofoam cup, which was a bit unwieldy but did its job.

Dotted on the tables were jars of ‘Shanghai red beancurd’ that turned out to be filled instead with what appeared to be homemade chilli oil. Help yourself!

Chilli Oil

After a little wait, a massive bowl of noodle soup was plonked down in front of me. There was a good spicy and gently sour broth, beautifully thin noodles (I asked for thin, I’ll probably go with regular next time), and lots of sliced beef and some token bok choy too.

Hot and Sour Sliced Beef Hand Pulled Noodle Soup

Just having it steam up my face was extremely comforting and yes, it was delicious. The noodles were slippery smooth and somehow I managed to put away the entire bowl. Don’t worry about heat levels – the hot and sour were quite gentle. For real heat, you’ve got to add that chili oil on the table.

And Lanzhou Noodle Bar is definitely not a place to linger – order, eat and go. I’m a-ok with that when the bill is about £8.

Lanzhou Noodle Bar
33 Cranbourn Street
London WC2H 7AD

Lanzhou on Urbanspoon

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