Restaurants


Taiwanese food! I love it and I loved what we tried at Ho-ja on Goldhawk Road in Shepherd’s Bush. I was first introduced to the restaurant by a friend who organised a karaoke night in one of their two private rooms downstairs. While the karaoke was ok (language variety good, song variety in English meh), the food was memorable. I returned last week with Blai.

The location was one I remembered as being an old-fashioned British diner in times past – I recall having Spam fritters for the first time there! The business has turned over a couple times since then and is now Ho-ja. The space is large and is peppered with wooden benches and tables – we’re shown to the end of a large communal one as the smaller tables are all taken. We have menus but one needs to order and pay at the counter and the food is brought out to you when it’s ready.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

Our spread looks good, no? First up was a pork katsu bento – it’s not really in a bento box but is akin to the set meals that are typically Taiwanese. For something like £6, we got a slightly greasy fried breaded pork cutlet, some stewed cabbage, beansprouts, and rice. Portions are certainly hearty.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

A side order of their chicken popcorn is surprisingly greaseless by comparison. It’s extremely addictive and it would be worth ordering this as a bento main.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

The Ho-ja beef roll also comes with vegetables (steamed broccoli here) and are flaky scallion pancakes rolled around lots of salad leaves and some stewed beef. Fabulous stuff! We loved the freshness of the greens with the richer bread and beef. Just watch out for the skewers holding the rolls together… it’s easy to accidentally give yourself an unwanted piercing.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

With a bubble tea and a regular jasmine tea, the bill came to about £22, a pretty good deal. It’s definitely a place to look out for if you’re in search of a bite in the area.

Ho Ja
39 Goldhawk Road
Shepherd’s Bush
London W12 8QQ

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There was one particularly memorable lunch in Barcelona in Gràcia (closest metro station: Fontana). I’d heard good things about a Japanese-Mediterranean restaurant called Somodó and as we were planning on taking my mother-in-law for a nice lunch, it seemed like a good opportunity to try it. Reservations recommended as there’s only seating for about 20 people though we managed to book that morning for lunch for three.

You wouldn’t be blamed for walking straight past the restaurant – the windows are blocked up and there’s a very minimalist entrance, not unlike those I remember seeing in Tokyo. They have set menus for lunch and dinner but while both are very well priced for you get, lunch is the real bargain. Inside, the lighting is a bit dim but I guess that could be considered intimate. We were seated immediately at a round table laden with a small dish of olive oil and an apple. (We would later see apple threaded through the menu.)

Apple and Olive Oil

No printed menus were proffered but instead chef Shojiro Ochi himself came to our table and sullenly recited the choices for that day’s menú del dia to us in Spanish. No choice for the amuse and the first course. Fish or lamb for second; brownie or mousse for dessert. Between the three of us, we tried everything available – I love creating our own little tasting menu. Anyway, I believe the menu changes daily so you do need to listen carefully!

Excellent warm bread was brought to our table and turned out to be necessary to mop up all the sauces that were to come. Of course, it went well with the olive oil too.

Bread

I only thought to take a photo of the bread midway through the meal – don’t mind the crumbs!

Our first amuse/tapas was braised pigeon wings served with an apple sauce. We grabbed the little things with our fingers and gnawed away every last bit of flesh before mopping up the sauce with that excellent bread.

Pigeon Wings

The first course was an incredibly tender seared salmon fillet in a smoked tomato sauce. We suspected it had been first cooked sous vide but forget about any analysis – just eat. Eat and wonder if they’d give you a second plate of the same thing.

Salmon in a Smoked Tomato Sauce

It was at this point that more bread was brought to our table without our even asking. Those sauces! Not a drop was left on our plates.

For the second courses, the fish was monkfish with artichokes. You may want to note that portion sizes here run a little smaller than at your typical lunch joints but gosh, are the dishes fantastic here. The monkfish was perfectly cooked and served in a creamy sauce with a surprise slab of thick melting bacon underneath and fried artichoke slices on top.

Monkfish with Artichokes

The lamb was equally excellent, with mangetout, Japanese mushrooms, and kimchi! Yes, kimchi! I definitely didn’t expect to find it here; its strong flavour worked so well with the lamb.

Lamb with Kimchi

An unexpected cheese course came along at this point. A very strong local goat’s cheese (if my memory is correct) was served on little toasts with a homemade apple compote alongside.

Cheese

Desserts! The mousse of mató was topped with an apple sorbet and lots of little bits and pieces of various textures. Candied fruit, chewy jellies, blueberries and meringue. This was incredibly refreshing.

Mató Mousse

The brownie was made with chestnut (maybe it was more of a blondie?) and served with ice cream, caramelised banana and toffee and scattered with crushed popcorn. Oh, and yes, under a sheet of glass sugar!

Chestnut Brownie

Coffees were then proffered (a Japanese green tea in Blai’s case) and alongside we were offered onion financiers. We thought we didn’t hear properly but nope, that’s right! Savoury onion financiers! A bit of a surprise but still delightful.

Onion Financiers

By the end of the meal, chef seemed to have warmed up to us and waved us off with a big smile! In hindsight, I’d call it a Mediterranean restaurant with Japanese influences – but whatever it is, it’s excellent. And I haven’t told you the best part yet: it’s €20 for the menú del dia, including bread, water, wine, and coffee (the evening menus don’t include bread and drinks). If you’re visiting this beautiful city, go!

Somodó
Ros de Olano, 11
Gràcia
Barcelona 08012

First post of the year! Happy new year, everyone! I’ll start the year with a great restaurant that’s local to us, one that’s a short bus ride away from me (though likely more of a train journey for most people in London).

I know that there are a million and one burger restaurants and many of them are of a few particular chains. This restaurant, Dexter Burger, is an independent and has some seriously good burgers. Their prices may seem steeper than other burger joints (£9 for a hamburger) but a side of their excellent rosemary and sea salt fries are included. Bearnaise and rocket leaves are default, tomato and onion and jalapenos are free, and other toppings (like cheese) are a small supplement. For a supplement, the fries can also be upgraded. On our first visit there, we both got cheeseburgers (+£1) but I upgraded my fries to sweet potato fries too (+£1).

I really like their burger – it’s incredibly juicy and meaty and they mix a tiny bit of minced onion into the patty as well. The bun is excellent, holding its structure in the face of all those meat juices. Sweet potato fries are, of course, amazing.

Back in London, having a burger. It's good to be home! Also, Dexter Burger is our latest discovery and we love it.

Do ask for their homemade sweet chilli sauce (photo above, top right) – it’s wonderful and very addictive.

On a more recent visit, we tried their courgette fries (£3.50) as well and they’re just as good as I expected them to be.

Dinner at the excellent Dexter Burger in Purley last week.

I pushed the boat out and upgraded my fries to chilli rub fries (+£1.20). I had no idea what to expect but was delighted when presented with my pile of fries topped with a chilli sprinkle (the rub, I gather), a chilli mayo, and lots of pickled jalapenos.

Dinner at the excellent Dexter Burger in Purley last week.

The dessert list is short (two items) but the one dessert we have tried (their banoffee pie) was fantastic with lots of cream and toffee sauce.

Dinner at the excellent Dexter Burger in Purley last week.

I love them and am very happy to find a local independent burger place that’s excellent. Watch out for their opening times as they close earlier on Sunday evenings. They have a separate weekend brunch menu as well that’s enticing – baked eggs, pancakes, pork burger?! I’ll be seeing you again, Dexter Burger.

Dexter Burger
10 High Street
Purley CR8 2AA

I was up in Manchester at the beginning of this month for work. There were two nights, a presentation, and walks here and there throughout the city as I made my way from the conference venue to my Travelodge room. Here were the highlights for me.

There was lunch the Thai supermarket Siam Smiles (48A George Street, Manchester M1 4HF), where I had a large plate of khao kha moo (the sweet and salty stewed pork knuckle with rice) for £9.50. There was hot and sweet Thai milk tea too.

Hello, Manchester! My khao kha moo at Siam Smiles (I read the @marinagpoloughlin article on the place!).

A visit to the John Rylands Library was a necessity as I have a passion for libraries and I was not disappointed!

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The Victorian building was utterly gorgeous and I only wished I’d had more time in there. If you do stop by, make time to have a peek at the working original loos in the basement!

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The Christmas markets woven through the city streets were exceptionally charming, lending a festive air to the quiet city. There were plenty of stalls from the European continent as well as more local treats. I wished I had more space to sample the boreks I saw at one stall.

I'm loving Manchester's Christmas markets!

The Mancunian specialty I wanted to try was rice and three and I chose to have it at Kabana (52 Back Turner Street, Manchester M4 1FP). For £6, I could choose from the curries of the day; my choices were lamb, keema and potatoes, and channa. The food isn’t highly spiced but is very comforting with lots of fresh ginger and coriander. You won’t leave hungry!

Rice and three at Kabana

From a tip from a kind man at the John Rylands, I made my way to Chetham’s Library for a free tour just prior to catching my train back to London. This library is the oldest public reference library in the English speaking world and is part of Chetham’s School (specialising in music). The library dates from the 17th century but is housed in a building dating from the 15th century.

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There was first a glimpse at the freezing cold but impressive medieval hall with its humongous fireplace.

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The library itself is upstairs and looks like something out of a certain fictional wizarding school. It’s such an important bit of history and I’m so glad to have seen it.

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And that’s the very short report of how Manchester fed me and charmed me this festive season!

It’s cold, isn’t it? It’s definitely colder than last year and it certainly feels like a proper winter so far. Winter always brings hotpot to mind and recently I tried a version new to me. I’d heard of dry hotpot but I only got my first taste of it a few weeks ago when a friend organised a dinner at Jinli, a restaurant in Chinatown just a little off the usual tourist path. This is a Sichuan restaurant that used to be China City and when I got there, I saw that every table had a large dish in the centre from which diners were picking out delectable little morsels. This was Sichuan dry hotpot.

Of course, we got our own dry hotpot too, with my friend arranging for the various ingredients from a long list provided to him. This is what appeared! You can see the cans of soft drink around its edges for scale.

Tonight's massive Sichuan dry hotpot! 🌶🌶🌶

It was a veritable mountain of a typically Sichuan spiced stir fried hodge podge! There were dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorns for the usual ma la flavour and various other spices that I couldn’t really put my finger on. My friend had ordered thin slices of pork belly, luncheon meat (Spam), fish balls, lotus root, Chinese cabbage, choy sum, tofu skin, and sweet potato noodles. We had a bucket of rice for our table too, necessary for all that concentrated spicy flavour!

My understanding is that this style of hotpot is a newer style of dish in China and is currently very popular. I’ve heard that Jin Li isn’t the only place that serves it in London so do keep your eyes peeled if you’d like to try it. For the five of us, this giant hotpot, two starters of and excellent mouth-watering chicken and fried green peppers, rice and soft drinks came to about £24 each.

Jinli
4 Leicester Street
London WC2H 7BL

You’ll already have heard loads about Padella, I’m sure, but here’s my two cents (pence)! The hype is indeed valid for Padella next to Borough Market – their pasta dishes are fantastic. On a not-so-recent day off a month or two ago, I met my brother there and between the two of us, we split three pastas (most everyone else seemed to be splitting a starter and then having a pasta each).

Their famous pici cacio & pepe (£6.50) lived up to expectations! The thick, chewy pici were coated with the unctuous mixture of cheese and pepper – fabulous.

Pici cacio & pepe

Likewise, there’s quite a following for their pappardelle with 8-hour Dexter beef shin ragu (£8.50). I’m a sucker for a good ragu and this was excellent.

Pappardelle with 8-hour Dexter beef shin ragu

Taglierini with Dorset crab, chilli and lemon (£12) was wonderfully fresh and the only thing that could have improved it would have been to be having it al fresco by the sea. I loved the different pasta shapes and the way they’ve been thrust into the spotlights here – I definitely don’t recall seeing pici anywhere else, for example.

Taglierini with Dorset crab, chilli and lemon

Even for a weekday lunch, we had to queue but the restaurant is bigger than I expected so it was only a 10 minute wait for the two of us that day. I’m not sure what it’s like on a weekend. Oh, and the menu does change from time to time!

Padella
6 Southwark Street
London SE1 1TQ

I can’t believe it’s already been 4 years since I first visited Greece. This time I was there for almost a week – Saturday night to Thursday night – and it was mainly for work. And this time, the quality of the food we had everywhere really made a big impact on me; I came back to London thoroughly missing the food and the weather.

I arrived at my hotel at about 9pm on the Saturday night and after dropping everything off in my room, headed straight out again for nourishment. Nearby to my hotel is Ravaisi, a souvlaki place with outdoor seating (packed) and a long queue for takeaway – promising signs indeed! At €2 for each sandwich, I thought things would be petite and hence ordered one pork gyros sandwich and one of chicken too. They were huge – each the size of London burritos – and, of course, I couldn’t finish them. They were excellent though!

Gyros! At €2 each, I thought they'd be petite and hence ordered one pork and one chicken. They're the size of London burritos and they're fantastic!

The next day was a free day for me before work would kick in. The weather was beautiful and I spent the morning wandering around the Ancient Agora …

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… and then the Roman Agora.

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Lunch was at a suitably Greek time of 3pm and I headed over to Oineas, which seemed to have good reviews on Google. I wasn’t disappointed.

Al Fresco at Oineas

The restaurant had a good selection of meze and main courses and solo diners can still have a selection of meze by just choosing those that are offered by the piece. The cuisine is Greek but with a modern twist. Highlights for me were the incredible cheese pie made with kadaifi pastry and then sat in a pool of melted cheese …

Cheese Pie

… and this homemade little burger patty with a delicious spicy sauce.

Homemade Little Burger

My main course was a tender grilled calamari and homemade fries and its size did defeat me after all that initial cheese and meat.

Grilled Calamari and Fries

I thought I couldn’t fit in another bite but when a little slice of syrup soaked walnut cake was deposited on my table along with the bill, I tucked into that too!

Walnut Cake

That afternoon was spent at the National Archaelogical Museum, which is truly worth a visit if you have the time. The treasures within are indeed jaw-dropping.

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Dinner that evening was with an old friend I was meeting again after many years and he took me to spiti, an Italian restaurant in the outskirts of the city. Now here was where the locals eat! We split a couple of excellent salads. Here’s a tomato and caper leaf salad with a local cheese …

Tomato Salad with Caper Leaves

… and a refreshing salmon and avocado salad.

Salmon and Avocado Salad

My main course was a grilled croaker served with a little mound of Swiss chard and tomatoes and an excellent lemon sauce.

Grilled Croaker with Swiss Chard

We couldn’t fit any more after this, which was a shame as the food really was very good. I loved seeing another side of Athens.

On my first night after work, a colleague brought us to Efxaris, around the corner from Monastiraki station. Despite its super touristy location, our colleague had been brought there in the past by an Athenian and the restaurant was indeed filled with locals. Between 6 of us, we split a fine moussaka, …

Moussaka

… a ridiculous meat platter (grilled meat, more grilled meat, grilled chicken, grilled kebabs, gyros, etc), …

Meat Plate

… an equally ridiculous seafood platter (fried and grilled and boiled things galore), …

Seafood Plate

… a Greek salad (not pictured), and finally a couple mountains of Greek yogurt with honey. Prices were extremely reasonable and I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a place in the heart of the city.

A mountain of Greek yogurt and honey!

Sometime the next day, I discovered Greek spoon sweets, the jammy candied fruits traditionally served with a spoon to guests as a sweet welcome. These little figs were insanely delicious and I after this introduction, I bought a couple of jars of spoon sweets to take home and we’re enjoying them with Greek yoghurt at home.

Today I discovered Greek spoon sweets. These were little figs candied in lots of syrup. You eat them with a spoon and have them with Greek coffee. Sweet but delicious!

The second evening, another Athens resident referred us to Scholarchio, a highlight of my trip. Yes, it’s quite touristy but you do find locals there too and after our meal, my Greek friend did deem the food very good and the flavours correct. And best of all is the price – for groups, it’s €15 a head for a set number of dishes to share, mineral water, another drink (ouzo, beer, wine or soft drink), bread and dessert. To aid with selection of dishes (we got to choose 17 between 7 of us), the waiter brings a massive plate of the available prepared dishes …

The selection of meze at dinner yesterday! We had 17 dishes between 7 of us... 😬

… and also recites what can be ordered freshly made from the kitchen. You make your selection, start with what’s already ready to go, and wait for the rest of the dishes to be prepared. Let’s see, clockwise from the right in the photo below, we have giant beans, stewed pork in wine, dolmades in lemon sauce, and tyrokauteri (a fantastic spicy cheese).

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Let’s see, left to right below, we have fava (one of my favourite dips, Greek yellow split pea puree), tzatziki, taramasalata, and spicy pork sausages.

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More! Clockwise from the bottom: a new favourite – horta (boiled wild greens), another meat dish (beef?), meatballs in tomato sauce.

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It didn’t end there! The freshly fried stuff coming out of their kitchen was all excellent. Fried whitebait was crisp and non-greasy.

Fried Whitebait

Saganaki (fried cheese) was very popular at our table …

Saganaki

… as were fried aubergines.

Fried Aubergines

One of our other meat dishes was a tigania chicken, a sauteed chicken dish made with lemon and mustard. There was also a tigania pork with balsamic vinegar and honey.

Tigania Chicken

Courgette and feta fritters were also delicious if a bit salty; nothing a lot of tzatziki couldn’t solve though!

Courgette and Feta Fritters

There were other dishes too – too many to keep track of! I recall a Greek salad and fried courgettes and fried potatoes. And maybe another meat dish. How many is that already? Dessert was another slice of the typical syrup-soaked cakes I’d been seeing – this time orange.

Orange Cake

It’s a fun place to eat and to eat well too. I enjoyed working my way through an excellent spread!

On my last day, a quick trip to the supermarket about a 2 minute walk from my hotel ensured that my dried oregano supplies are now at their freshest. I also loved seeing the impressive range of feta and Greek yoghurt available!

Greek yogurt in Greece! #latergram

Before heading to the airport to catch my flight home, I also couldn’t help popping back into Ravaisi to get one last stick of pork souvlaki (they call each souvlaki stick kalamaki) – this was a perfect snack!

One pork souvlaki snack!

Ah, I really do miss Athens and all the amazing food I had there! One thing I did notice was how fabulous all the tomatoes were at all restaurants, even at the cheapest places. Actually, all the ingredients were top notch everywhere…this is some excellent Mediterranean cuisine! As usual, all my photos can be found in this Flickr album.

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