Restaurants


It’s difficult to believe that we were in New York City last week! It was only my second time but Blai’s first time and we were gonna hit all the high spots and, of course, eat well! We flew American Airlines direct to JFK and I was pleasantly surprised by how much space we had and quality of the food provided. What wasn’t so great was the flight taking up most of Friday, which meant that we landed mid afternoon Friday, checked into our Airbnb apartment in downtown Brooklyn, and then went directly to find dinner.

My friend Diana had sent over a huge list of delicious places and one really jumped out at me – Yemen Cafe & Restaurant on Atlantic Avenue, only a 15 minute walk from where we were staying. As soon as we sat down, we were brought a huge round of warm clay oven bread, lemon wedges and zhoug, the fresh green and spicy sauce served with Yemeni food.

Warm Clay Oven Bread, Lemons, Zhoug

Two bowls of lamb soup were also presented to us. It smelled very lamby but its flavour was much gently than that which its scent hinted.

Lamb Soup

And a plate of salad! This, we think, accompanied our main course and was brought as a sort of starter.

House Salad

Being somewhat wary of American portion sizes and not wanting too much waste on our trip, we ordered only one main course and one appetiser to split between us. Weirdly, we wanted something quite comforting and ended up with hummus! It was excellent homemade hummus and we ate probably way too much of that round of flatbread with it.

Hummus

And then our main course, the Yemeni national dish saltah, arrived. This was a hot stone bowl of a thick, slightly gelatinous vegetable stew topped with a frothy fenugreek sauce. We stirred our bubbling bowl hesitantly…and ate a little with rice. Then we tried it with bread and knew that we were onto a winner. It really is best with the warm flatbread – somehow the stew (with okra being the thickening agent) went amazingly well with it. I need to find saltah in London!

What we should have done was follow the lead of the Yemeni guy at the next table who dumped in a couple spoons of zhoug and stirred vigorously before tucking in with his wife. He was impressed by how we cleaned our bowl though!

Saltah

The saltah came with a portion of their lamb haneeth, a falling off the bone chunk of tender spiced slow roasted lamb. The rice we ordered as a side dish and that highly scented pile of spiced basmati came with a little drizzle of saltah sauce on it.

Lamb Haneeth and Rice

And to drink? Iced Yemeni tea, which hit the spot.

Iced Yemeni Tea

Our first proper day in the city started early… like 6am early. Jetlag had hit us a bit and we used that early morning to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.

Untitled

After walking for a bit (and having a bit of tea somewhere), we found ourselves in Chinatown and we headed for a place on my list for cheap dumplings (also, it opened at 7am, which was useful) – Vanessa’s Dumpling House. One order of fried pork and chive dumplings and a veggie filled pancake (a thick wodge of soft bread) saw our tummies filled for under $4. Bargain.

Dumplings and Filled Pancake

Then it was catching the 6-train and visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of my favourite places in the city and where we spent most of the day.

Temple of Dendur

All that walking through the galleries builds up an appetite! We walked (some more) to a nearby Papaya King and grabbed hot dogs to eat in Central Park. On the way, we also ran into a Dean and DeLuca (the upscale grocery store) and picked up a doughnut from Dough.

It’s here I need to mention the fantastic weather we had during our week there. Thumbs up!

Two Papaya King Hot Dogs

Dulce de Leche doughnut from Dough

Anyway, lunch was great! Papaya King’s hotdogs were excellent (no, I couldn’t tell any difference from Gray’s Papaya from my last trip) but as for topping, I don’t really get the New York onions, a stewed mixture that hints of cloves and cinnamon. I preferred the relish – pickle relish mixed with mustard. Their corn dogs and curly fries are excellent too. And that doughnut! Oh, it was brilliant – this was a dulce de leche one with icing that wasn’t too sweet and topped with lots of toasted almond slices.

After lunch, we returned to the Met again! And still, after spending most of the day there, we didn’t ever make it to the second floor!

All that walking around the Met was killing our feet and we needed another sit down mid afternoon. Tea and a snack then and that snack was our very first black and white cookie, a New York classic. It was alright (soft cakey cookie with icing) but I didn’t see the great appeal of it.

Black and White

One final round through the Oceania galleries (fantastic) and it was time to go. Dinner, as is normal for any jet-lagged traveller, was required a little earlier than usual. However, our chosen restaurant, Ootoya in Times Square, had a one hour wait for a table (it was Saturday night). No matter – we waited in the Starbucks next door. When we finally sat down, we were ravenous.

My kaasan ni set was a stoneware bowl of chicken katsu in a soy-dashi broth topped with lots of grated daikon and a poached egg. I ordered this as a set, with rice, miso soup, steamed egg, and pickles.

Kaasan Ni Set

Blai’s buta shio koji with negishio was fantastic – the pork belly had been marinated in shio koji before being grilled and were then topped with sliced spring onions that too had been in shio koji. It was so utterly savoury and moreish.

Buta Shio Koji with Negishio

Altogether it was a lot of food! I only just about managed to squeeze in some warabimochi (another big portion!) at the end!

Warabimochi

And that was only our first 1.5 days in the city.

Yemen Cafe & Restaurant

Yemen Café and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Vanessa’s Dumpling House

Vanessa's Dumpling House on Urbanspoon

Papaya King

Papaya King on Urbanspoon

Ootoya

Ootoya 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!

Banchan

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

Bibimbap

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.

Banchan

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!

Yami
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.

CheeMc
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

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

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