London


Last month, I was invited along to a bloggers lunch for the relaunch of Hutong’s dim sum lunch menu – while dim sum has been available for a while, much of the media focus and emphasis has been on its signature main dishes (mainly northern Chinese and Sichuan). Dim sum is definitely available at lunch times though (12-3 everyday) and being in the Shard, it’s highly likely that this is dim sum with the best view in London.

I’d not been to Hutong (the original Hutong in the Aqua Restaurant Group is in Hong Kong) nor The Shard before so yes, this was a bit of a treat! Up to the 33rd floor I went and I was then escorted to the restaurant’s entrance with its two lions.

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Prior to opening for lunch, we got a tour of the restaurant, with its quirky furnishings (there are washbuckets and original signs from China and even a wall made of tea bricks). We even got a tour of the men’s loos and their (in)famous urinals with a view! It cannot be denied that the views are stunning.

The View

We ended the tour at the bar where cocktails were being made for us. Their cocktail menu is quite fun – all the ingredients are listed with their supposed health benefits (according to Chinese beliefs).

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I stuck to something without alcohol – I don’t think this had a name but it was lovely! Not sure how much those berries were going to help me healthwise though!

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After drinks, we were ushered to our table – by this time, the restaurant was starting to fill with others there for the dim sum too. A number of teas were offered for us to drink with our dim sum –  we sampled a 2005 Puer tea, a Monkey pick Tie-Guan-Yin and a White Peony. I loved them all, especially the last white tea; the waiters were especially attentive as to what tea you had in your cup and ours brought me an extra cup to sample more than one at a time. Then the dishes started arriving.

Crispy Peking duck rolls were well filled and very prettily presented.

Crispy Peking duck rolls

Both Pan-fried lamb and fennel seed dumplings

Pan-fried lamb and fennel seed dumplings

… and Pan-fried mixed vegetable dumplings were excellent toothsome morsels.

Pan-fried mixed vegetable dumplings

The Crispy shrimp rolls with thousand year egg was one of my favourite things that afternoon with the egg and shrimp nicely balanced with a sliver of pickled ginger.

Crispy shrimp rolls with thousand year egg

Shanghai-style xiao long bao were very good though I’d have preferred it if the filling had been a little bit more compact.

Shanghai-style xiao long bao

Vegetable and bamboo pith dumplings were some of the nicest vegetable dim sum dishes I’d had in London. There was a good and non gloopy mixture of vegetables inside.

Vegetable and bamboo pith dumplings

Spicy minced pork dumplings could have used with a bit more spice! I like them firey. Luckily the homemade chilli oil also provided is excellent.

Spicy minced pork dumplings

Rose champagne shrimp dumplings – you couldn’t taste any champagne but they were still like good har gow.

Rose champagne shrimp dumplings

In addition to the usual dumplings, we were treated to an order of the restaurant’s famous signature dish of Red Lantern crispy soft shell crab with Sichuan dried chilli. This was gorgeous (I absolutely adore soft shell crab though) and packed a gentle amount of heat, despite the plethora of dried chilies in which they swam.

Red Lantern crispy soft shell crab with Sichuan dried chilli

And then there were desserts too! From the dim sum menu came both Steamed egg custard buns

Steamed egg custard buns

… and Mini black sesame glutinous dumplings. I preferred the latter, all soft and chewy. The former had almost solid custard inside – I prefer it more hot and melting, like sweet yellow lava!

Mini black sesame glutinous dumplings

All this would have totaled to a much more affordable price than I expected – £29.25 a head. It’s not too bad, especially if you’re trying to impress someone. However, if you can really pack it in, you might find portion sizes a little on the delicate side.

It was a lovely meal. Thank you very much to Hugh from Hutong for the invitation!

Hutong
Level 33 The Shard
31 St. Thomas Street
London SE1 9RY

Hutong on Urbanspoon

Despite being on their Brewer Street site for a year already, I’d not heard of Janetira until they suddenly appeared everywhere on social media promoting their new ‘super Thai’ menu (or at least it was sudden to me). Curiosity had me visit the first time and that delicious meal had me go revisit twice more within a week!

It turned out that ‘super Thai’ was indeed super Thai, dishes that aren’t typically found in London. Over half the menu is dedicated to one dish meals. One such one dish meal is Tom yum seafood fried rice (£10) and when I saw that, I knew I had to have it. I’ve definitely not seen it elsewhere in the city and it’s terribly moreish – all the flavours of tom yum soup (and the seafood) all in fried rice. The seafood in it – prawn, squid and a good sized scallop – was all impressively fresh.

Tom Yum Seafood Fried Rice

Tamarind Eggs (£6.00?) or Son in Law Eggs were deep-fried hard-boiled eggs with a sweet and tangy sauce on top. I love the texture you get when deep frying hard boiled eggs though I cannot think of another cuisine that does this. Good stuff.

Son in Law Eggs

Their Pad Thai (£8.50) had a good number of large prawns scattered throughout and was delicious and well balanced in flavours. Interestingly, there’s an option to have this with glass noodles instead of the more usual flat rice noodles; I wonder how they’ll fare in this dish.

Pad Thai

On my second visit, we started by first splitting an excellent and not too spicy Prawn tom yum soup (£6.50)…

Prawn Tom Yum

… followed by bowls of Khao soi (£8.50), the Northern Thai curried noodle dish that I so terribly miss. It’s a good version here – lots of rich coconut milk resulting in a mild, creamy curry sauce, lots of noodles both boiled and fried for contrast, and lots of dark chicken meat. Squeeze in that lime and add plenty of pickled cabbage and raw red onion to balance out all that creaminess and you see that dark little dish of chilli oil just peeping out behind the bowl? Hot hot hot – gosh, it’s delicious stuff but do be cautious with it!

Khao Soi and its Trimmings

On our third visit, I had their Raad naa (£7), a simple dish of rice noodles, pork and vegetables in a yellow bean sauce. It was a most comforting bowl to slurp up with condiments (the usual Thai set of four) to add to your taste. I love Thai condiments and their condiment holders – if I recall correctly, here there was sugar, fish sauce, chilli powder and pickled chilli. Maybe there was chilli oil.  It’s a simple dish but one done well here.

Raad Na

Their new menu is indeed a good one and I think Janetira’s strength is in all those one-dish meals well that few Thai restaurants in London tackle. There are also regular dishes to have with rice but I prefer those one-dish meals when there’s just the two of us.

Janetira Eat Thai
28 Brewer St
London  W1F 0SR

Janetira on Urbanspoon

I had heard whispers through the grapevine of a secret Chinese restaurant in South Kensington for a few years now and recently, I confirmed its existence. There’s no information online….in English. It turns out that there’s been a bit of chatter online in Chinese and it was my food-loving Chinese colleague who found it and it’s thanks to him that we had a chance to eat there. He had managed to gather 16 of us to try it one night. Its name is Guyuan, which translates to ‘old garden’ or ‘old paradise’.

As for location, I’ll only say that it’s not far from South Kensington tube station! The secret restaurant is run by a restaurateur whose restaurants serve very different cuisines and this is clearly a labour of love to him. There’s only one room that holds a massive round table with a massive lazy susan in the middle. It’s beautifully decorated and reminded us of the private dining rooms we were privileged to try in Beijing. It was difficult to believe that we were still in London!

Guyuan

The meal was a proper feast, with 8 cold starters, 11 hot dishes and fruit afterwards! The food mostly hailed from the south-east of China with many Shanghainese specialities and while I certainly wasn’t familiar with most of the dishes we had, all were delicious. The following were the highlights of the meal for me.

Braised kaofu with cloud ear fungus, lily flowers and peanuts (cold)

Braised Kaofu with Cloud Ear Fungus, Lily Flowers, and Peanuts

Bean curd sheet salad (cold)

Bean Curd Sheet Salad

Fried quail with chestnuts (with a little zing from the addition of Sichuan peppercorns)

Fried Quail with Chestnuts

West Lake fish (lots of vinegar and ginger!)

West Lake Fish

‘Chicken leg mushrooms’ in oyster sauce

Chicken Leg Mushrooms in Oyster Sauce

Scallops and asparagus in XO sauce

Scallops and Asparagus in XO Sauce

Pork and cabbage dumplings

Pork and Cabbage Dumplings

If you’re interested, you can find their phone number at the bottom of this page. You’ll need a minimum of 10 people and will need to book at least two weeks in advance – they’re very popular. We left the menu up to them (after specifying a cost for food per head (£30pp)) though you can request your favourite dishes. I suspect it’s easiest to book if you have a Chinese speaker to help with booking; otherwise, good luck!

All the dishes we had that night can be seen in this Flickr photoset.

A new Diner opened on Gloucester Road recently and having heard good things about it, we popped over for lunch one weekday when we had an opportunity. Their menu is large and sprawling and it took us a while to decide to have a barbecue chicken sandwich, an Coney Island hot dog and split an order of Diner skinny fries.

After we completed our order, we were suddenly subjected to a hard sell:

Would you like some guacamole and fried onions on your chicken burger? That’s the way I have it and it’s so much better like that.

And you ma’am, would you like some guacamole on top of your hot dog?

How about some sour cream on the side to dip your French fries?

It left a bad taste in our mouth. After this assault on ordering, we were pretty much ignored the rest of the meal, which, surprise surprise, took forever to arrive. I also had tap water spilled on me and apart from the waiter apologising (sheesh, say it like you mean it), he made no attempt to help clean up all the spill.

The food wasn’t too bad. While not everything is as it would be in North America, it certainly scratches any itch you might have for that cuisine.

My friend’s BBQ chicken burger was fine if a little on the small side.

BBQ Chicken Burger

My Coney Island dog was large and topped with lots of chile con carne (with beans…it should be without), yellow mustard and onions.

Coney Island Dog

The Skinny Diner Fries with their cajun seasoning were excellent and no, they didn’t require any sour cream on the side.

Skinny Diner Fries

We also split a Warm Chocolate and Peanut Cookie, Peanut Butter Ice Cream and Butterscotch Sauce. Nothing warm about that cookie though…. the peanut butter ice cream refused to soften while sitting on top of it!

Warm Chocolate and Peanut Cookie, Peanut Butter Ice Cream and Butterscotch Sauce

Half the items on the menu come in these irritating baskets that are just too small. One businessman at the table next to us asked, Does it come in one of those baskets?. When the reply came in the affirmative, he continued, Can I have my lunch on a proper big plate instead? That’s what I’ll do next time! Well, if there’s a next time; I’m still reeling from the rubbish service. Have you been to any of the other Diners in London? How was your meal?

The Diner
105 Gloucester Rd
London SW7 5RB

The Diner on Urbanspoon

The birthday celebrations continued over the weekend and on Sunday, I was taken to brunch by one of my best friends. Mexican food at Mestizo! We’d been saving trying this restaurant for an occasion and this was a good excuse to try their Sunday brunch buffet – only £20 per person! Booking in advance is advised.

Mestizo is located at a funny spot – very close to Euston station but very much feeling like a neighbourhood restaurant what with all the residential buildings around. Anyway, we arrived that Sunday to a very large spread of rather nice things to eat.

Taco Toppings Pork, Chicken and Empanadas

Tamales, Tortilla Chips, Salsas and Soups Salads and Enchiladas

Two gigantic containers of aguas frescas sat at one corner next to desserts and while we could go up to help ourselves, our waitress insisted on bringing over a jug of what we preferred most of the two – horchata (the other was tamarindo). I have a bad feeling I drank a lot of horchata, thus limiting my available eating space!

Horchata

I started with chips and salsa and a taco al pastor. Those homemade salsas were fresh and spicy and zingy and excellent on chips and tacos.

Chips and Salsas

I loved the sweetness from the pineapple with the grilled pork in my taco. Tacos, quesadillas and egg dishes are made by a man watching over a giant hot plate. Orders are placed with him (there’s a list of available fillings behind him) and he’ll call you over again when it’s ready to pick up. Then you go to town with the taco toppings (top left photo in the first batch of 4 in this post).

Taco Al Pastor

From the hot buffet, we tried a bit of everything. Here’s my plate with (roughly clockwise from 10 o’clock) a green chile chicken enchilada, a dried pork dish, stewed beef, chicken in a cream sauce, rice and beans, a tamal with beans, and an empanada with peppers and cheese. The stewed dishes were alright but I loved the simplicity of their beans and their enchilada was excellent. The tamal was delicious but oh so heavy.

A Bit of Everything

Two soups were available that day and both were new to us, thus both requiring sampling. Pozole was a very mild soup with giant corn kernels …

Pozole

… and menudo was tripe-based and the more tasty of the two. I like how soups can also be topped with various ingredients to one’s taste.

Menudo

There was another taco and a few more chips. And then another taco. I think my favourite things to eat there are their tacos.

We had to stop with the savouries to make room for desserts (our waiter insisted that we try them!). Homemade ice creams (that week they had rosemary and strawberry) were intensely creamy and full of flavour. Rosemary and Strawberry Ice Creams (Helados)

Their eggy flan casero was flavoured with orange and was delicious but by that point, we were truly struggling!

Flan Casero

It was a great brunch with a very good varied spread of typical and not so typical Mexican dishes and as it wasn’t too busy that day, they were fine with us lingering past the two hour limit (they have two seatings: one at 12:00 and the other at 14:00). It’s fun, it’s casual and is ideal for large groups. Thanks for the lovely brunch, Roxanne!

Mestizo
103 Hampstead Road
London NW1 3EL

Mestizo on Urbanspoon

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