London


It turns out that I’m one bus ride away from Crystal Palace, which I’ve been wanting to visit for a while to see the Victorian dinosaur models in Crystal Palace park. Of course, the Sunday I chose turned out to be freezing and wet, all the more reason to stay for a long lunch at nearby Mi Cocina Es Tuya, one of only two Venezuelan restaurants in London (and this was the only one for a long time). It’s a remarkably cosy and friendly place and the owner will happily engage in discourse on Venezuela and music and music in Venezuela.

I love the fruit shakes that one sees on the menus on South American restaurants and Venezuela is no different. I had a guanabana (soursop) smoothie while Blai had the Venezuelan version of chicha. In many South American countries, chicha is usually a maize based beverage that is usually fermented. The emphasis is on usually as there are clearly many different types of chicha. In Venezuela, chicha is a very rich and very thick rice based drink that is not fermented. It was described to us as having cooked rice and condensed milk and came out with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top, being very sweet and tasting like a thick pureed rice pudding. The chicha was almost a meal in itself!

Guanabana Smoothie and Chicha

Brought with the drinks were a pair of sauces that were on every table – I think this was a Venezuelan guasacaca, a garlicky avocado salsa, and a chilli sauce. I like good sauces and of these two, that guasacaca was very moreish.

Guasacaca and Chili Sauce

Between the two of us, we split a couple of things. First, a cachapa with chicken, and a side of cheese. This was a thick fresh corn cake topped with spiced chicken and with a side of fresh crumbly white cheese on the side. The sweet and slightly spicy and salty all went together brilliantly and I loved it with lashings of the guasacaca and chilli sauces.

Cheese and Chicken Cachapa

We also split what was described as Venezuela’s national dish – pabellón criollo. This is a plate of rice and black beans and slow cooked shredded spiced beef. We got some sweet fried plantains on top too. This was especially comforting on that cold Sunday and also ridiculously delicious. I’m a huge fan of rice and beans and this was excellent. It also comes in pork and chicken versions.

Pabellón de Carne

Dessert was always in the forefront of my mind ever since I spotted a massive cake sitting on the counter at the back. In a large casserole dish was said meringue-topped cake, sitting in a moat of the three milks, slowly soaking it all in. This was their torta tres leches and it was utterly luscious. This was indeed one of the best tres leches cakes I’ve ever had.

Torta Tres Leches, from the other side

The total for lunch came to about £30.00 and I recommend getting here either early or late on Sundays to get a table. You may not be near Crystal Palace but eating here does give you an excuse to visit the dinosaurs!

Mi Cocina Es Tuya
61 Westow Street
Crystal Palace
London SE19 3RW

Mi Cocina Es Tuya - Café Latino on Urbanspoon

A group of us from work recently celebrated a colleague’s birthday at Greek Affair in Notting Hill, a small homey Greek restaurant that I’ve been wanting to try for a while, especially after hearing about their Grand Meze menu. This is a selection of ten starters (meze) and four main courses and is available for a minimum of two people (£22 per person). For our large group, this was a great choice, taking away much of the decision making process that can take forever when there are so many of us!

The restaurant was much larger than expected and our large group was seated in the private room upstairs. We were hungry, we ordered the Grand Meze as recommended, and luckily, we didn’t have to wait long for a lot of good food to come our way. The cold starters came out first. A garlicky tzatziki, a white taramosalata and an excellent hummus were accompanied with lots of warm Greek bread.

Tzatziki, Taramosalata, Hummus

I somehow managed not to get photos of the two other cold dishes but one was a delicious aubergine salad called melitzanosalata and the other was dolmades, those ubiquitous grape leaf wrapped rice bundles (these were just ok).

After a brief pause, the hot starters then started arriving. There was a hot aubergine and potato salad whose name I cannot recall but it was delicious!

Aubergine and Potatoes

Kalamari tiganiko were some very nice fried calamari.

Kalamari Tiganiko

I loved the hot meaty meze that arrived next – soutzoukakia were tender meatballs in a tomato sauce.

Soutzoukakia

Keftedakia were one of my favourites. These fried meatballs were juicy and flavourful and incredibly moreish.

Keftedakia

Loukaniko horiatiko were fried slices of a smoked Greek sausage. As you can imagine, we were already eating possibly too much and too many of the starters, not planning well for the main courses that were to come.

Loukaniko Horiatiko

And as foreseen, the main courses were generously portioned, especially after all the meze. Elliniki Salata was like all the excellent Greek salads I had in Greece, topped with a lovely slab of feta.

Elliniki Salata

Their moussaka had a thick layer of bechamel on top of all that minced lamb and vegetables.

Kleftiko

Kleftiko didn’t look as I’m normally used to but here were chunks of tender lamb served with a massive portion of stewed potatoes. This went down a storm at our table!

Kleftiko

Kotopoulo fournou was a bowl of chicken pieces that didn’t particular excite us at first but upon trying just a bite, I fell rapturously onto an awful lot of it. The chicken had been marinated for quite a while and then braised until it was falling apart.

Kotopoulo Fournou

No dessert this time as we had birthday cake but I was so stuffed that fitting in a sliver proved to be a challenge – I was ready to burst! And there were even leftovers to pack away. Anyway, Greek Affair is a good place for a large group as there’s plenty of good food and they’re very good at taking care of vegetarians in the group, with our friends given extra dishes and plenty of vegetarian moussaka. Thumbs up then for the Greek food at Greek Affair!

Greek Affair
1 Hillgate Street
Notting Hill Gate
London W8 7SP

Greek Affair on Urbanspoon

It’s Chinese New Year on Thursday 19 February and we’ll be entering the Year of the Sheep then (sometimes also referred to as the Year of the Goat). To celebrate this occasion, I was invited to try the Chinese New Year menu at HKK, part of the Hakkasan Group here in London. HKK only serves tasting menus in the evening but from 26 January to 28 February, the menu is one specially designed by Tong Chee Hwee, executive head chef of the Hakkasan Group, with all eight of China’s great regional cuisines represented – a veritable culinary journey through the country. We were clearly going to be in for a treat.

The restaurant isn’t very far from Liverpool Street station and to my surprise (I hadn’t paid much attention to the address until I got there), the restaurant is located at 88 Worship Street. 88! (If you don’t know, 8 is a very lucky number in Chinese.) Inside, the restaurant was smaller than I expected but it’s cosy, not crowded. We were led to our table where we were first presented with a drinks menu and then a beautiful specially illustrated menu for the Chinese New Year meal. To drink, knowing we had 10 courses ahead of us, we chose a medium bodied tea (a Dong Ding oolong) to accompany our meal.

The Chinese New Year menu at HKK London is beautiful! #hkk #hkklondon #hkkculinaryjourney #chinesenewyear

First up was Marinated Duke of Berkshire pork with Osmanthus wine jelly, representative of Su Cuisine from Suzhou and Jiangsu. The light jellied bites were perfectly paired with the sweet and sour balsamic vinegar.

Marinated Duke of Berkshire pork with Osmanthus wine jelly

For Lu Cuisine from Beijing and Shandong, it had to be the Cherry wood roasted Peking duck. Here’s one of the chefs carving up our duck and Pedro plating it up.

Slicing and Serving the Duck

This was some of the best duck we’d ever had in London. We were instructed to start with the crisp skin with sugar, then eat the delectably dressed little salad, move on to the succulent slice of duck meat and skin and finally finish with the duck in the pancake. I could have had another three plates of this (but perhaps just having one is for the best!).

Cherry wood roasted Peking duck

From the south in Guangdong comes Yue (or Cantonese) Cuisine. Here we were presented a steamer basket with a Dim sum trilogy. This was a little sampling of the dim sum they offer at lunch (from an a la carte menu). Pink was a goji berry and prawn dumpling and green was a chicken and black truffle dumpling but the fried king crab puff was my favourite! The paintbrush turned out to be a perfect applicator for soy sauce!

Dim sum trilogy

Fujian’s Min Cuisine was represented by Monk Jumps Over The Wall, a classic broth filled with luxurious seafood – abalone, sea cucumber, dried scallops and imitation sharks fin. The story goes that the smell of this soup was so enticing that it prompted a monk to jump over the wall to get some (and, of course, break his vegetarian diet!).

Monk Jumps Over The Wall

As our waiter cleared our bowls, he announced that that was the end of our starters and the start of our main courses. The first main came from Hunan (Xiang Cuisine) and was Pan-grilled Chilean seabass in Sha Cha sauce. These rolls of fish filled with crunchy vegetables and mushrooms were utterly gorgeous, especially with the slightly spicy sauce and that crunchy sweet potato ribbon.

Pan-grilled Chilean seabass in Sha Cha sauce

Hui Cuisine from Anhui came next. This was Jasmine tea smoked poussin, which while pleasant enough probably didn’t require the black truffled mushrooms underneath. The strong truffle flavour certainly overpowered whatever hint of jasmine and smoke there may have been in the bird. This was the only weak point in the meal.

Jasmine tea smoked poussin

Luckily, the Braised King soy Wagyu beef with Merlot (Zhe Cuisine from Zhejiang) made up for the previous course. That beef melted in the mouth and we wiped up every bit of that luscious sauce. That green flag on top was the stem of pak choi; now I normally consider this to be one of the more boring Chinese vegetables but its juicy blandness here was a perfect foil to the rich beef.

Braised King soy Wagyu beef with Merlot

Finally we travelled to Sichuan for Chuan Cuisine. The Sichuan chargrilled New Zealand scampi was cooked beautifully and there is certainly some good heat in the mala sauce!

Sichuan chargrilled New Zealand scampi

It’s here I’ll pause and point out that the dishes came out quite quickly, without lengthy waits in between the courses. It wasn’t quick enough to feel rushed but I thought it was all very well paced. We were asked if we would like a break between the savouries and dessert but we were ready to soldier on. Bring it.

Desserts were Chinese inspired and were the perfect playful ending to the meal. A Trio of dark chocolate dumplings with yuzu and ginger infusion burst in the mouth and the rich chocolate was cut with the zing of the infusion poured on top.

Trio of dark chocolate dumplings with yuzu and ginger infusion

Our second dessert and final course of the tasting menu was all sheep! See the spun sugar ‘wool’ on the middle of the plate? This was the Sheep’s milk mousse, pandan curd and caramelised puff rice, a combination that originally didn’t call out to me but trust me when I say it’s incredible.

Sheep’s milk mousse, pandan curd and caramelised puff rice

Of course, a 10-course tasting menu at HKK doesn’t come cheap (it’s £98) but then again, this isn’t an everyday restaurant. With only tasting menus available in the evenings, it’s clearly for special occasions and we felt the price was about correct for the outstanding food and for a special event. There’s an 8-course menu also available for £68; it’s the 10-course menu but without the pricier shellfish dishes. Vegetarian menus are also available as are alcoholic and non-alcoholic pairings for each course. I’m looking forward to returning for lunch one day – perhaps for their 5-course duck menu!

Thank you very much again to HKK for the invitation!

HKK London
88 Worship Street
Broadgate Quarter
London EC2A 2BE

HKK on Urbanspoon

Croydon Council and the Greater London Authority, along with the Portas Town Team, have opened Surrey StrEatery on, you guessed it, Surrey Street, a market street that’s existed in some form or other since the 13th century. It’s kind of like a food court, but with indoor street food stalls.

Surrey StrEatery

Seven street food stalls were invited/accepted to open in the building for half a year and there are also events and a good overall sense of community there. The seven stalls get promotion for the 26 weeks as well as general business support; I think it’s a brilliant idea to help out new local small businesses!

When I visited earlier this month, Christmas was in full swing at the StrEatery, with food hampers filled with goods from the stalls available for gifting. It was warm inside and it was welcoming; every stall radiated smiles.

Inside Surrey StrEatery

Inside Surrey StrEatery

The current stands there are:

  • Cravings “La Carreta” – Mexican street food
  • Mum’s the Chef – fresh wraps
  • Olivier’s Bakery – bakery and patissserie
  • Plumbun – cakes
  • Ro Co Coffee – coffee
  • Sannas Goan Street Food – Goan street food
  • The Liquid Pod – soups, stews and smoothies

I grabbed a flat white from Ro Co (excellent) and perused the rest of the stalls.

Inside Surrey StrEatery

That day, I opted for a bit of Goan food – for £5.50, I received a plate with Goan fish curry on a soft steamed rice cake, freshly fried vegetable bhajis, a lamb samosa and a bit of homemade carrot pickle. It was all brilliant – the curry was fabulous, the bhajis were crisp and not greasy, and the samosa had a great spicing to the lamb.

Goan Food

I really enjoyed my visit there and I can’t wait to get back in the new year to try the other stands. It’s definitely worth a visit and after you’ve had a good fill, you can pop outside and shop for groceries to take home too!

It’s open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 8am to 5pm each day. (Do check for Christmas openings!)

Surrey StrEatery
Unit 3 Bridge House
13 Surrey Street
Croydon CR0 1RG

My friend KK is so organised. Again he visited from Switzerland and he’d already made a lunch booking for us at The Dairy before I even learned he was going to be in town that weekend (we had discussed visiting on his prior visit here!). And two Saturdays ago, that’s where I met him, at The Dairy in Clapham Common. It’s a tiny place from the front (blink and you’ll miss it) but there’s enough seating within. I very much liked its pseudo-rustic cosy atmosphere.

Along with the menus, we received the following little snack: a Marmite crisp topped with cheese and onion. It was a very promising start, with the usually very assertive trio of flavours toned down into a very pleasing amalgam.

Marmite crisp, cheese, onion

There were a couple of menus for us to peruse. We didn’t choose the tasting menu (£45 per head) but instead chose a number of things we liked the sound of from the a la carte menu. We were originally advised to choose a snack, a vegetable, a fish or meat and a sweet for each of us but we ended up all over the shop on the menu. Just the one snack, one veg, two fishes and two meats between the two of us and we’d decide on dessert later!

Straight after putting in our order and returning our menus, we received bone marrow butter on a stone and a little canvas bag with a small round loaf of homemade sourdough nestled within. Oh, it was warm and cosy within that bag! This was one of the best breads I’d received in a restaurant in recent memory and I could have made a meal of just that and the luxuriously meaty butter.

Bone marrow butter, homemade sourdough

Our only snack was what we thought sounded like the most exciting thing on the snack menu – the Cured Iberico presa, parsnip, hazelnut (£6.50). The slices of  tender pork shoulder were here topped with parsnip crisps and shaved hazelnut. Delicious but yes, snack sized!

Cured Iberico presa, parsnip, hazelnut

Our vegetable was the Hay smoked curd, Jerusalem artichokes, roasted onions, chanterelles (£8.50). What impressed me was not only the flavour combinations but the variety of different textures too. The Jerusalem artichokes showed up in three different ways on this plate: braised to a slippery smoothness, mashed into a puree and fried to a crisp. Inspiring!

Hay smoked curd, Jerusalem artichokes, roasted onions, chanterelles

Our fish dishes both arrived together. The ‘Lady Hamilton’ smoked cod, charred leeks, sorrel, fried bread (£8.50) was delicious. I loved the way everything combined – the smokiness of the fish, the sweet and smokey leeks, the zesty zing of the sorrel and the crunch of the fried bread.

'Lady Hamilton' smoked cod, charred leeks, sorrel, fried bread

The ‘Julie Girl’ monkfish, toasted cauliflower, romanesco, dulse butter (£10) was equally excellent. Neither was “better” than the other; they were just different. I loved the way cauliflower, a normally kind of dull vegetable, was here again used in different ways – there was roasted cauliflower, fried crumbs, puree, and raw shavings. I’m still not entirely sure what dulse butter was but the slick of butter was quite nice under everything.

'Julie Girl' monkfish, toasted cauliflower, romanesco, dulse butter

Onto the meats! The Chicken oyster, crispy skin, cellar kimchi, burnt kale (£9) was a fabulous combination of two of my favourite chicken parts with homemade kimchi and the fashionable crispy kale. That pressed chicken skin terrine thing….wow. That was one of the best chicken skin things I’ve ever had. I have no idea what to call it. This plate was perfectly put together with the rich and the sour balancing ever so well.

Chicken oyster, crispy skin, cellar kimchi, burnt kale

We finished with the Suckling pig belly and cheek, cabbage, apple & walnut chutney (£10) which was also very good. The cheeks were braised and tender and the belly was roasted and also tender and both matched well to the sweet and tangy chutney. The cabbage came in large strips which were visually pleasing but y’know, they were just large strips of blanched cabbage. That said, I can see why they were included – their blandness were a foil to the richness everywhere else on the plate.

Suckling pig belly and cheek, cabbage, apple & walnut chutney

Of the three desserts on the list, only one really shouted out at us (we weren’t in the mood for rice pudding or pannacotta). Our choice of Salted caramel, cacao, malted barley ice cream (£6.50) was just incredible. It was all very moreish without being too sweet and cloying.

Salted caramel, cacao, malted barley ice cream

We were very happy with our meal. We were made even more happy with the lovely petits fours that came before our coffees. What struck me about their sweets was how they all weren’t too sweet – and the petit fours were no exception. Tucked within the folds of an old menu were pieces of short and buttery biscuit, a herby green cake with a red berry centre, and a pear jelly coated in sherbet powder.

Petits Fours

With a large bottle of sparkling water, 2 double espressos and service, the total came to about £37 each. I’ll be back – I can’t wait to see what other dishes they come up with!

The Dairy
15 The Pavement
London SW4 0HY

The Dairy on Urbanspoon

The owners of The Dairy have recently opened another restaurant in Clapham – The Manor. If you’re visiting London, I wouldn’t recommend trying both the restaurants on the same visit as there’s quite a bit of overlap between the two menus. My friend KK learned that the hard way.

I only recently heard that the Barcelonan chain Mas Q Menos had opened in London but it wasn’t until they opened their second restaurant on Wardour Street (the first is in Holborn) that I finally made my way there. On first impressions, the place is very promising. There’s an open, welcoming space and the ingredients were all on display in the front and all clearly were of high quality.

It took an absolute age for anything to happen while we were there though. Despite it being quite empty (there were only three tables full that afternoon), orders took forever, drinks arrived at a snail’s pace, even waiters moved in slow motion.

The first dish to (finally) come out was a toasted sandwich with Mallorcan cured sausage (sobrasada de Mallorca), brie cheese, and honey. Ah, one of my favourite combinations! It was a good thing this sandwich was excellent as I was on the verge of losing my patience with the place. This sandwich was generously filled with all my favourite things and perfectly toasted.

Sobrassada, Cheese and Honey Sandwich

One of the well-known offerings in the restaurant is their toasted coca flatbreads, a Catalan flatbread here topped with various ingredients. We had one with small sardines, seasonal tomatoes, rocket salad, piquillo peppers and spring onions. The sardines were clearly from a tin and of very high quality and were delicious. Excellent.

Little Sardines, Piquillo Peppers, Rocket, Tomato, Onion on Coca Bread

A slice of Spanish omelette (tortilla de patatas) wasn’t exactly a dud but it was a bit dull. But fine, it was fine, we ate it.

Tortilla with Tomato Bread

The food, in general, then is very good. Service, however, if you couldn’t guess, was extremely slow and I hope it’s improved since we visited. It’s the perfect place for a light lunch or an after work drink with snacks though and I’m glad it’s so much easier to get good Catalan/Spanish snacks here in London!

Mas Q Menos
68-70 Wardour Street
London W1F 0TB

Mas Q Menos on Urbanspoon

Yes, another local to Croydon review! This time it’s the West Croydon branch of Dosa n Chutny, the much beloved restaurant in Tooting. I was keen to see how the Croydon branch compared. I’ll just be upfront and say that service was an utter shambles the Sunday afternoon we visited but luckily the food was excellent. Hopefully the service does improve once the front of house and the cooks all communicate with each other.

Anyway, to drink, we ordered Fresh Lemon Juice (£2.25) and Orange + Ginger + Apple Juice (£2.95). Both were excellent but it was the latter that stood out, having a perfect balance of all three ingredients. Not too gingery, not too thin and appley, not tasting just of orange juice. Just perfect.

Our food all arrived at once. A Special Malasa Dosa (£3.50) turned out to have two kinds of potato mixture in the middle. Apart from the major colour differences, they both tasted pretty similar. The different chutneys were all coconut based and the green and orange ones had a fabulous kick to them. Great sambhar too. The dosa was both soft and crisp and a most excellent specimen.

Special Malasa Dosa

Inside the Special Malasa Dosa

A Bhindi Do Pyaza (£4.75) was well made and helped us with our vegetable content that lunchtime. I can’t resist any good okra dish.

Bhindi Do Pyaza

We ordered a Veechu Parotha (£1.50) to mop up the gravy and it was a good, tasty, if small, flatbread for it.

Veechu Parotha

Despite my seeing our waiter write down our order very very clearly, the kitchen managed to get one of our dishes incorrect (a lot of incorrect orders were also going to other tables that afternoon). There was a bit of a long wait then for our correct order of Paneer Majestic (£4.75). But what arrived was worth the wait! It was indeed majestic! Fingers of paneer were battered and fried and then tossed with a fried mixture of garlic, cashews, spices and …spinach? fenugreek? I’m still not entirely sure what the crispy greens were but the dish was utterly fantastic.

Paneer Majestic

After all of that, we decided to order another dosa to help mop up the rest of the bhindi dish. A Paper Roast Dosa (£3.50) came out swiftly – I do love these extra thin, extra crispy dosas and the one at Dosa n Chutny has the added benefit of being very cheap. Oh yeah, the prices are pretty good here, aren’t they?

Paper Roast Dosa

Good stuff. I only wish it was within walking distance of our house! Oh well, the bus ride is ok too.

Dosa n Chutny
466 London Road
Croydon CR0 2SS

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