Restaurants


We’ve been eating so much Vietnamese food recently! We now have not just one but TWO good Vietnamese restaurants near us in Croydon and we recently visited the hotly anticipated Viet Food in Chinatown, the Vietnamese street food restaurant run by Jeff Tan, who used to be at Hakkasan. The address online listed Wardour Street and as a ‘hip’ new place, obviously I went in search of it down the cooler, hipper end of the street – I couldn’t have been more wrong! Eventually we had to backtrack and head towards Chinatown and there we found it…on the old site of a former, totally rubbish Vietnamese restaurant. Ha! Let’s see how this one would compare.

We waited about 5 minutes to get a seat and to hasten things, we agreed to share a table with another couple upstairs. Even with sharing, we certainly had enough space for all our dishes, though I had to swap seats with poor Blai as he could barely balance on his original tiny stool. Orders were coming out fast and the turnover was quick. Bookings are available as all the choice tables around the windows had all been reserved.

Our dishes arrived as they were ready. Our Coconut Calamari (£5) was very moreish – if you’ve ever had coconut prawns, then you can imagine this dish. Thick rings of calamari were coated with a crunchy coating with lots of dried coconut and the sweet chilli sauce served alongside was a nice complement. On the tables were a couple of other excellent homemade chilli sauces too – a red and a green – and both went well with….fried stuff.

Coconut Calamari

A Slow Cooked Haddock (£7.80) were two pieces of tender fish. I have no idea if they were slow cooked though… they were certainly tender…perhaps just cooked slowly at a very low temperature? The sauce was a slightly sweet, slightly savoury, mild brown sauce.

Slow Cooked Haddock

Our Vietnamese Sausage and Prawn Fried Rice (£5) was excellent, both chock full of ingredients and incredibly good. We’ve not yet met a Vietnamese fried rice that we didn’t like. We cleaned out this cute bamboo container.

Vietnamese Sausage and Prawn Fried Rice

Bun Thit Nuong (£8.20) was a bowl of bun (the Vietnamese rice noodles) topped with vegetables, herbs, pickles, and grilled marinated pork and grilled pork balls. The nuoc cham (the Vietnamese fish sauce dressing) needed a little more of a punch but overall, a very good dish that would be suitable for a one dish meal.

Bun Thit Nuong

Our Crispy Spring Rolls (£4.80) also arrived at about this time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t particularly fond of this new style of very crunchy wrapper. I prefer the usual rice paper wrappers that fry up all light and crisp. The filling was also unmemorable.

Crispy Spring Rolls

There were two options for dessert: a sago dessert and a jelly. We went for the former, which was Pandan Sago with Caramelised Banana (£4). They served the generously sized portion between us with little bowls for us to serve ourselves. This went down a treat, all coconut milk and pandan and sago. The only dud were the bananas which had never been near any heat – no caramelisation anywhere.

Pandan Sago with Banana

Our bill (with a juice and still water) came to £44.90, which included a surprising 10% service charge (surprising because how many restaurants go lower than the usual 12.5%, eh?). It’s certainly not a bad spot in Chinatown and is much better than what was on the site previously.

Viet Food
34-36 Wardour Street
London W1D 6QT

I spent a couple nights for work in Glasgow last week and took myself out for a nice dinner for my first evening. A recommendation from Rachel was Crabshakk and rather conveniently, it just so happened to be located very close to my hotel. I had made a booking for my lone self and that turned out to be a good idea even on a Tuesday night; the restaurant was packed the entire evening with both reservations and walk-ins. It’s a small space with bar seating and a few tables on the ground floor and a few more tables upstairs. I think I went there expecting a rustic looking place (I mean, shakk!) but the place is surprisingly modern with a few vintage touches here and there.

I discussed the menu with the very friendly waiter and went with a mix of his recommendations and my absolute must-haves. We both agreed that instead of the usual starter-main meal configuration, I’d go with a selection of starters. The Tempura squid with soy and coriander dipping sauce (£8.25) was indeed excellent but I could have swapped this for something a little different. The portion was generous for a starter and many other tables were sharing one order.

Tempura squid with soy and coriander dipping sauce

Off the specials blackboard were my must try: Queenies with garlic butter (£8.50). These little scallops were cooked on a hot plate with all that butter and arrived bubbling furiously. I leaned back to avoid getting butter all over me! When the noise settled, I tucked in carefully – these were some beautifully tender little scallops. And what a bargain they were – there were plenty in that dish!

Queenies with garlic butter

Bread and butter (£2.25) was ordered to mop up the butter (just the bread without the extra butter spread on, of course).

Bread and butter

An order of 3 Crab cakes (£8.35) turned out to be these petite things. But oh, what crab cakes!

Three crab cakes

Look inside! These were just chock full of crab and there was barely any discernible binding ingredients. These were some of the most impressive crab cakes I’d ever had.

Inside a crab cake

And thank goodness too for that bit of salad on the side that helped refresh my palate a little. Maybe I overdid it with the bread and garlic butter.

I needed a bit of tea at the end of my dinner to wash down all that richness. My green tea came with a little bit of tablet which is not exactly ‘light’ itself! Whatever – it all went down the hatch as I adore the sweet grainy texture of tablet.

Green tea with tablet

Everyone was very friendly, not just in Crabshakk but in Glasgow overall! It’s a great city with lots of good eating (I had a good meal the next evening as well – but that was a work related one) and I’m keen to go back soon to see and eat more of it!

Crabshakk
1114 Argyle Street
Finnieston
Glasgow G3 8TD

I found myself back in West London the past weekend and met up with friends for Saturday brunch at Bush Hall Dining Rooms, the all day eatery next to the music venue that is Bush Hall. I used to live in the area (well, down the road in Acton) and it felt good to see the Shepherds Bush area again! Anyway, on a Saturday morning, it’s pretty easy to get a table though do book if you’re looking for a guaranteed spot after noon.

Brunch (well, ordered off a breakfast menu)! A friend’s eggy bread with bacon and maple syrup kept her quite happy though we do think that sourdough doesn’t make the best eggy bread. And personally, I would have preferred a plate rather than the chopping board.

Eggy bread with bacon and maple syrup

Eggs Benedict looked and tasted excellent – no complaints there. There was a very generous amount of ham!

Eggs Benedict

My chorizo jam, guacamole, fried eggs on toasted sourdough was all the savoury, creamy, eggy stuff I needed to get through the afternoon.

Chorizo jam, guacamole, fried egg on toasted sourdough

The only downside to their breakfast menu is the inability to order a side of potato product with our breakfasts. We had to wait until noon before we could finally get our hands on a portion of skinny fries which we proceeded to wolf down. No photos of that!

But then we could also get dessert. Between three of us, we split the autumn mess – a very pretty mixture of meringue, poppyseed and orange flower creme patisserie, oatmeal biscuit, mint tea jelly and cumin chocolate fudge. Perhaps the only dud in that list was the fudge, the cumin adding a little too much of an earthy note. The jelly was the big hit for me. But it was a fun dessert to eat!

Autumn Mess

I have visited in the past for dinner and can vouch for the deliciousness of their other dishes too. Service was a little lacking when the restaurant was empty and then very harried when full – they might want to look into that a little but otherwise, it’s a good casual all day eatery in the area. We never felt rushed and with free wifi and large tables, it’s a great spot to gabble away the hours.

Bush Hall Dining Rooms
304 Uxbridge Road
London W12 7LJ

Once the working week was over, there were only about 20 hours left to eat to my hearts content. The last dinner was at an Uyghur restaurant recently featured in Lucky Peach magazine. The Kashgar Uyghur Restaurant is located very close to the main train station (München Hauptbahnhof) and on first glance is a fancy kebab joint. We went upstairs where it’s a plain restaurant and you’re handed takeaway menus from which to order. We left it all to a colleague who was the most knowledgeable on Uyghur cuisine (from Xinjiang province in China) and he went ahead and overordered for us all.

I don’t have the ‘official’ menu names for anything – everything was listed in Chinese or German, of course. We started with samsa – baked handheld pockets of flaky dough filled with a lightly spiced minced lamb mixture. These were brilliant and I probably could have made a meal of two or three of them.

Samsa

A dish of cold spicy noodles (laghman) were topped with a hot stirfry of lamb and vegetables.

Cold Spicy Laghman

Beef stomach was soft and tender, not unlike slurping down beefy jelly.

Beef Stomach

Then came a stir fry….of lots of different things. And so we renamed it the stir fry of everything. Those flattish clear bean noodles were spectacular.

A Stir Fry of Many Things

Dapanji – Big Plate Chicken – was probably my favourite dish of the evening. Large flat belt noodles were served with the fabulously delicious bone-in chicken, pepper and potato stew. Here was just a portion for one – my friend would have ordered the larger version had I not stopped him!

Dapanji - Big Plate Chicken

Another dish! Stir fried egg and cucumber and meat. The mild cucumber was a soothing balm to our now tingling tongues.

Egg and Cucumber and Meat

And still there was more – ok, our final dish of stir fried laghman. Excellent as it was, we could only pick at it. Excellent noodles, yes, excellent.

Stir Fried Laghman

Overall, excellent! Highly recommended! There is another Uyghur restaurant nearby (that more resembles a Chinese restaurant) but according to my colleague who tried both, this was the better one.

Kashgar Uyghur Restaurant
Dachauer Str. 4
80335 Munich, Germany

And then on my last morning, before my flight back in the afternoon, I had to fit as many Munich foods as I could into my gob. I didn’t do too badly.

My main stop that morning was the Viktualienmarkt – Munich’s famous outdoor food market. Sure there are tourists around but you’ll also find locals shopping for the week or picking up something a bit special. I joined the locals in the queue at one of the mushroom stalls and bought a mixture of wild mushrooms to cook at home that night.

Mushrooms//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

I also stopped at the Münchner Suppenküche, one of my favourite stops from over a decade ago, and I was happy to see that it’s still going strong. This large bowl of chicken noodle soup was €3,50 and it remains one of the best chicken noodle soups I’ve ever had.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Münchner Suppenküche
Am Viktualienmarkt Abt. 3 Stand 5/28/29
80331 München, Germany

Leberkäse! This is one of my most favourite Bavarian foods. Yes, I should have also eaten weisswurst but leberkase! If you’re not familiar with it, I guess I could liken it to posh Spam/bologna. You can get it everywhere. At snack stands, a hot slice will be sandwiched in a roll. In restaurants, a slice is likely to be served with potatoes and a fried egg. As I was noshing on the hoof, it would have to be in a roll for me. I took a tip from somewhere on the Internet and got my leberkäse in a roll directly from one of the Viktualienmmarkt’s butchers – they’ll slice the hot meatloaf and weigh your slice (nice and thick!) before shoving it into a sliced roll and handing it over. Look at that massive wodge! With a little mustard, it was some fine eating on the hoof while doing some sightseeing in the centre.

Leberkase

I had to end my haphazard ‘meal’ with something sweet. I concluded my tour of Munich with a stop at Cafe Luitpold, close to Odeonsplatz. I only found out later that the breakfasts/brunch here are quite famous but I only had the time and the stomach space for Kaffee und Kuchen.

The Cake Counter

Choosing a cake from the massive display was certainly challenging! But in the end, it was another slice of Prinzregententorte. It was perhaps a more elegant looking slice but taste wise – well, both were excellent!

Prinzregententorte

Cafe Luitpold
Brienner Str. 11
80333 München, Germany

And then it was off to the airport! Goodbye, Munich!

Goodbye, Munich

I love the city! Other points to note include the fact that it’s safe. No one bothers you at night when you’re walking around and everything’s wonderfully clean. The food is good everywhere and there are plenty of options other than Bavarian food nowadays. I do hope to return soon (especially when my kilo of Ritter Sport runs out)!

Here’s a general tip – there’s a very well-stocked supermarket at Munich Airport. I bought tonnes of things to shove last minute into my suitcase.

All my photos from my trip can be found in this Flickr album.

So I was travelling again as you could probably gather if you follow my Instagram and Twitter feeds. This time work took me back to the Bavarian city of Munich for a week. I love this city – my first and only visit was about 10 years ago when my brother and I spent a wintery week there indulging in everything Bavarian and Christmas. This time there were no Christmas Market stands and the weather for the most part was quite pleasant; oh yeah, and there was mostly work too, forgot about that. And I now have a little bit more spending money than an impoverished student (I still shop like a student though – I brought home 1.2kg of Ritter Sport).

Surprisingly (or perhaps not, I don’t know), not much has changed about the city in over a decade. Sure there are a few more international high street shops but there are still lots of independent shops and little cafes. I think even the food scene has improved somewhat.

Our first evening’s dinner was at Kuchlverzeichnis, a very traditional Bavarian restaurant with, yes, lots of pork on offer. We all shared a few starters first. There was a traditional platter of Bavarian snacks (I really enjoyed the obatzda), …

Pork Platter

…a venison pate served with a berry and horseradish compote,…

Venison Pate

…and shredded duck in aspic. All excellent and all plates cleaned.

Duck in Aspic

For my main course, as soon as I saw schnitzel on the menu, I couldn’t look away. But instead of the traditional Viennese style veal schnitzel, I went with a Münchner Schnitzel, a thin pork cutlet first coated in mustard before being crumbed and fried.

A Munich Style Schnitzel

We had to try a traditional Bavarian Cream, here served with fruits. It’s simply a pastry cream thickened with gelatin, nothing much to shout about.

Bavarian Cream

Kuchlverzeichnis
Rosenheimer Str. 10
81669 München, Germany

On some afternoons, I hopped over to True & 12 which seems to be considered one of the best ice cream places in the city. The flavours were indeed pretty fabulous! Here’s a chai latte and mango+ginger…

A bit of ice cream this afternoon - chai latte and mango+ginger flavours!

…and ‘Happy Monkey’ – a banana ice cream with chocolate chips, caramel and cinnamon sugar.

A scoop of 'Happy Monkey' - banana ice cream with chocolate chips, caramel, cinnamon sugar. Happy happy!

I really liked that scoops were sold individually, so you could have just 1 or 100.

True & 12
Rosenheimer Str. 14
81669 München, Germany

One particularly memorable teatime was spent at Konditorei Wölfl where we had a difficult time choosing just one cake from the myriad of homemade choices. I settled for a Prinzregententorte, a Bavarian cake made with thin layers of sponge cake interleaved with chocolate buttercream and covered with a dark chocolate glaze. It was as amazing as it looked and sounds and their other cakes also got the thumbs up from my colleagues. I hear they get queues down the road on weekends and I would recommend trying to get there on a weekday if possible.

Kuchen

Konditorei Wölfl
Kellerstraße 17
81667 München, Germany

A few days in and the pork levels in our bodies were already starting to get a bit high. We took a break one evening with Afghani food at a place nearby – Chopan (to go). Massive plates of basmati rice pilau and tender lamb and heavily spiced spinach ensured that we left satiated, our tastebuds enlivened again.

Narendj Palau

Chopan (to go)
Rosenheimerstraße 6 + 8
81669 München, Germany

Sometime later during the week, a few of us were getting a little tired of the sandwich lunches and we left in search of a kebab. Oh yes, this was my first German döner kebab and now I understand what the fuss is about. I mean, look at all that salad! It’s, like, fresh and whatnot all on top of some quality meat (by quality, I mean I can identify it as meat, unlike those elephant leg doners).

Today for lunch, we sampled that super German specialty, the döner kebab.

It was back to Bavarian food for a couple more nights and our meal at Haxnbauer was memorable mainly for the ridiculous amounts of meat before us. Between five of us, we first shared a platter for two. Goodness, if this was for two, then surely this was for two as a main course.

Starter Platter

While I was freaking out about the size of the knuckles and thinking of ordering slices, the others were keen to order by whole knuckle (warning: this is not a budget move by any means). When you state that preference, your waiter will come along with a platter of knuckles, with prices stuck on toothpicks, from which to choose. One veal knuckle and one pork knuckle then. These were whisked back into the kitchen for slicing before being presented to us yet again. Both were excellent but my favourite was the pork with its crackling, of course.

One Veal Knuckle, One Pork Knuckle

We eschewed the usual sides (sauerkraut and mash) and went with an eclectic mix: potato pancakes,…

Potato Pancakes

… red cabbage with apple,…

Red Cabbage with Apple

…pickled cucumber with dill,…

Pickled Cucumber with Dill

…and creamed mushrooms.

Creamed Mushrooms

Of particular note were the cabbage (a little sweet and a perfect pairing to the pork) and the mushrooms (like a chunky cream of mushroom soup).

No, we didn’t have dessert; actually we had to pack up meat leftovers. Booking recommended.

Haxnbauer im Scholastikahaus
Sparkassenstraße 6
80331 München, Germany

More in Part 2!

I’d heard a lot online about Chen Ji in Barcelona. Strangely enough, we passed this restaurant a few years ago as we went shopping in a Chinese supermarket across the street; I was getting some ingredients for a dinner I was making, I think. I’ve already forgotten about what I made for dinner that night but I remember the restaurant; we got a good vibe from it…something about the way it looked clearly indicated that it wasn’t like the other Chinese restaurants in Barcelona. And that’s a good thing – some of the stuff in the city can be grim. There’s been lots of buzz about it online recently, all in Catalan/Spanish of course, and after showing Blai a few photos of the food, the restaurant shot up to the top of our must-try list. Dumplings! Hand pulled noodles! Cheap as chips! We settled on visiting one day during our holidays for lunch and brought along Blai’s brother too.

We found the restaurant in the middle of C/d’Alí Bei, the street running down a neighbourhood that is fast becoming the major ‘Chinatown’ of Barcelona. There are a few serious-looking restaurants and a couple of well-stocked Chinese supermarkets. Chen Ji has one of those narrow shopfronts that leads to a much larger interior with plenty of seating, all of which filled up when we were there for a weekday lunch. Most were locals, a few were tourists, and the split between Chinese and non-Chinese diners was about 50:50.

One popular dish at the restaurant is what’s listed on the menu as ‘xiao long bao’. These are like no xiao long bao I’ve ever had… if you’re not familiar with them, they’re those Shanghainese soup dumplings, thin skinned, filled with meat and soup and steamed. These were more like sheng jian bao, pan fried with their breadier skins and moist but less soupy insides. They were excellent and such a bargain at €3 for a portion of 9.

"Xiao Long Bao"

Their fried rice was excellent, one of the best restaurant fried rices I’d had in a while. With a little bit of chilli oil on the side, bam, good eating. This is miles better than any of the arròs tres delícies you’ll typically find.

Fried Rice

We had to order some hand pulled noodles too. They’re available in soups (for stupidly little money) and stir fried too. We went for stir fried with beef and vegetables, dry being easier to share than wet. The noodles had a good chew and were delicious – full of flavour and packed with ingredients.

Fried Hand Pulled Noodles with Beef and Vegetables

With the three dishes and a large bottle of water, the bill for the three of us was under €15. Bargain!

Their menu was full of dishes you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere in the city: various vegetables, fish dishes, offal. There’s even a menú del dia – three or four dishes from a hot buffet will be piled onto a divided metal plate (yeah, like a prison tray) and from what I saw, it’s a lot of food. We’ll be back!

Chen Ji
Carrer d’Alí Bei, 65
08013 Barcelona

When we’re in Barcelona for the summer, we always visit Blai’s extended family out in a village in the Alt Penedès. It’s wine country and everywhere you turn you’re surrounded by vineyards, vines dripping with white or red grapes. Quite often we’ll eat in Cal Padrí, a restaurant we’ve seen rise from what was originally a large chicken shed, and we’ve seen the restaurant grow in popularity since it opened, both with locals there for the weekday menú del dia or non-locals out for a special day with a special menu or lost tourists who are looking to retrace the cava route they planned. Yeah, I wasn’t there but Blai had to help out some lost tourists while he was having lunch there one day; lots of the wineries in the region now welcome visitors. And Cal Padrí is indeed a lovely place to stop for lunch if you’re in the area.

On our last visit, it was a Sunday and hence the menú del dia wasn’t available. There was a weekend menu or what we all opted for, the menú degustació. This tasting menu consisted of three first courses, two second courses and two desserts…and all for €26,50. And that included bread, water and the house wine. Definitely a bargain as you’ll soon see. And not everyone at the table even has to order it.

We started with a little snack of pa de vidre (rubbed with tomato and oil for pa amb tomàquet naturally) and topped with slices of fuet. A good and classic start.

Pa de vidre amb fuet

Then the tasting menu began proper. Amanida de perles de foie amb maduixa i reduccio de vinaigre – A salad of foie pearls with strawberry and vinegar reduction. I’ve never thought much about strawberries in salads but they were perfect in here, a lovely fresh and slightly sour foil to the rich foie.

Amanida de perles de foie amb maduixa i reduccio de vinaigre

Coca de farigola amb seito i ceps confitada – A thyme coca with anchovy and confited porcini mushrooms. This was wonderful. I love flatbreads and flatbreads topped with delicious things are always welcome.

Coca de farigola amb seito i ceps confitada

Raviolis de mascarpone i alfabrega amb daus de tomaquet fresc – Mascarpone and thyme ravioli with diced fresh tomatoes. Those tomatoes are certainly fresh as they have a kitchen garden on the other side of the parking lot!

Raviolis de mascarpone i alfabrega amb daus de tomaquet fresc

Llom de bacalla amb crema d’Idiazabal i patata xip violeta – Cod with Idiazabal cheese sauce and purple potato chip. This was one of my favourite dishes with lots of creamy cheesy sauce with the mild cod.

Llom de bacalla amb crema d'Idiazabal i patata xip violeta

Anec mut del Penedes criat a Cal Padri rostit amb prunes i pinyons. KM0 – Roasted Muscovy duck from the Penedès with prunes and pine nuts. This is the signature dish of the restaurant as it uses ducks they raise on the premises (the farm has been there for years). The cooking style is very Catalan – the duck is roasted in pieces in its own juices along with the fruit and nuts. It’s simple but very satisfying. The ‘KM0’ denotes the distance the ingredients have traveled!

Anec mut del Penedes criat a Cal Padri rostit amb prunes i pinyons. KM0

And then there were desserts! On the left is Copa de mousse de xocolata blanca amb gelatina de mango – A homemade cup of white chocolate mousse with mango jelly. On the right, “Ou sorpresa de Cal Padri” – their “Surprise Egg” of meringue with vanilla ice cream. Both simple but both good.

Postres

Overall, a tasty tasting menu and quite a fun way to dine if you’re here on a weekend.

I’ve been a few times already in the past and each time I’d had their menú del dia, the lunch menu of the day – made up always of two dishes (the first is usually a vegetable/rice/pasta and the second usually a meat/fish) plus dessert, bread, water, and wine. I’ve just highlighted some of the dishes they offer here. This is all very typical everyday Catalan eating and it’s all very well cooked here.

A typical Catalan amanida (salad)

Salad

A saltejat (think stir-fry or saute) of green beans with piquillo peppers

Saltejat de Mongeta Verda amb Pebrot Piquillo

A simple but typically Vilafranca/Catalan fideuà

Fideuà

Spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and basil

Spaguetis amb Tomaquet Xerri i Alfabrega

Chicken wings with garlic and potatoes

Alas de Pollastre al Allet amb Patata

Stewed lean beef with mushrooms

Daus de Carn Magra amb Bolets

Homemade yoghurt cake with chocolate sauce

Coca D'Iogurt amb Salsa Xocolata

Crema Catalana

Crema Catalana

Now there’s the matter of actually getting there. Cal Padrí’s address states that it’s in Castellvi de la Marca, which is really a municipality in the Alt Penedès. Technically, it’s in a village that’s really only made up of three houses. The proprietor said that everyone really finds the restaurant using Google Maps. And so I’ll recommend that too. Also, you’ll need a car or a taxi.

Cal Padrí

Cal Padrí
Masia Cal Gori s/n.
08732 Castellví de la Marca
(Barcelona)

The closest large town is Vilafranca del Penedès.

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